The Woman In Black – ‘Terrifying experience’
Deemed as ‘the most terrifying live theatre experience in the world’, ‘The Woman in Black’ has been making audiences jump out of their seats for nearly thirty years. Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation, that hit The Lowry in Salford this March, is no different.
In comparison to its end, the first act had a slow and rather awkward start as it saw the most recognisable parts of Susan Hill’s classic Gothic tale mediated in a fabricated sequence. Upon hearing the first line of “It was 9.30 on Christmas Eve…”, the audience is invited into a scene which sees an old Mr Kipps attempt to stage his story with the help of a young actor.
This play-within-a-play format jumps from a supposed reality to the imagined stage and is indicated by the changing of warm amber lighting to harsh white light. Whilst it may be initially difficult to grasp, as the play develops, the distinction becomes clearer.
The lighting of the production was executed perfectly and was an essential part of the play. An opaque dishevelled curtain is the backdrop to which the play opens. As it progresses, the light shining on the curtain illuminates the setting behind it. The audience then sees the tarp-covered furniture and disturbingly eerie nursery of Alice Drablow’s House.
What was most interesting about the show was the aspect of comedy that seemed inseparable from the actor’s performance. This isn’t, however, to say that the terrifying aspects of the show were hindered. Intertwining dramatic irony and at times exaggerated performances made the build up to the terror much more palatable.
The Woman in Black is herself, evidence to which this comedic aspect centres on. Her first appearance is far from fear-inducing and instead, seems more like pantomime. You almost want to shout ‘she’s behind you’. However, as the play progresses into the second act, her presence becomes dreaded and her silence is encapsulating.
Corresponding to Susan Hill’s 1983 novel, and the fantastical and spectral roots of the plot, Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation does not try to mimic a clear and straightforward reality. Instead, you are invited to use your imagination to bring to life elements such as the horse and carriage which represented by lifeless props such as a wicker basket or Spider, the dog, who is nothing but air.
Despite the sudden outbursts of screaming that shake the audience, which was of all ages, to its core, it was the final line that was spoken that seemed most chilling of all. Seeing the Woman in Black indicated imminent consequences, and her appearance on stage meant that we who were watching, were supposedly of the same fate.
TNT Arts & Culture Alexia Hendrickson