“The most terrifying live theatre experience in the world”
Any show that parades billboards and glossy leaflets with that tagline has already done half the job in tickling your dark curiosity. Yes, TNT were curious enough to head over to the Lowry’s Lyric Theatre, to check if Stephen Mallatratt’s stage adaptation of The Woman In Black had many heart-in-throat moments.
Of all earthlings, children are the most curious. This lends weight to the reason why this gothic masterpiece attracted a large number of young people in the audience. We imagine they were brought there by Daniel Radcliffe’s Hollywoodised portrayal of Mr Arthur Kipps. To paint a crystal picture, we – as the adults – were the minority; something that came to light after looking around the theatre. .
The Woman In Black originally by novelist Susan Hill, tells the story of a mysterious ghost that haunts a small English town, heralding the death of children. In its life on stage, the production is the second longest-running play in the history of the West End, after The Mousetrap.
Perhaps the anticipation of a younger audience, caused the director and producers of the play to deviate so brazenly from the novel. Having been long devoted to Susan Hill’s tale, TNT felt that the way in which the story was enveloped simply didn’t work. The tale was sandwiched between an entirely fabricated sequence – which saw old Mr Kipps attempt to work out with a young actor how he might stage his story.
This seemed to be done to highlight how difficult it had been to stage the play, given the intricacy of the novel, but this notion was undermined by the second half of the play – which was staged impeccably. When the dark drapes that seemed to cover the back wall of the set suddenly turned see-through – suddenly revealing an illuminated room beyond the stage – our skin prickled with goosebumps.
Although the initial act was painfully slow, due to the odd staging interrupting the narrative’s flow, the second act had the audience immersed in the horror of the tale. The harrowing sound effects almost sent us leaping into the lap of the person sitting next to us. The lighting that flooded the stage, turning from a pleasant yellowish hue to a sinister bloody red, was atmospheric. The acting was flawless; with only two actors performing every single character, the transitions between scenes was seamless.
Despite initial reservations, TNT was delighted by the play’s close. Director Robin Herford and writer Stephen Mallatratt succeeded in creating a wonderful, albeit chilling production of one of literature’s greatest gothic triumphs. The slapstick comedy introduced by the creation of the ‘old Mr Kipps-young actor’ sequence made it accessible to a broad audience, whilst emphasising – through contrast – the terrifying scenes when they did occur.
TNT Theatre Review