Woman In Black – 30th Anniversary

The Woman in Black has reached its 30th Anniversary at the Fortune Theatre and I went along to find out what I was missing all this time.

The show is partially a show within a show. It tells of Arthur Kipps who wants to tell his tale about his journey to Crythin Gifford to sort the affairs of his client Alice Drablow following her death. Within his tale he begins to see a woman in black and following a discovery in Alice Drablow’s house, learns the terrible truth behind her existence.   In order to tell the story and unburden himself Kipps enlists the help of an actor n both tutoring him and performing the piece itself.

All of the characters within the show are embodied by Stuart Fox who plays Arthur Kipps and Matthew Spencer who plays the actor. During the retelling of his own story Fox embodies all of the other characters that Kipps comes across. He starts out as a reluctant actor, wooden and just determined to get through the show and finishes by performing them all with real flair and a flourish.  

Matthew Spencer as the actor is hilarious in the first few moments of the show itself. He embodies everything you would expect a typical performance coach to say to their pupil. You are however drawn into his portrayal of Kipps quickly, forgetting that he is actually playing the other actor onstage.

Both Fox and Spencer have a uncanny ability to make the audience believe in what they are doing. Throughout one period of the show Spencer has a dog, Spider, with him. Despite clearly knowing that there was in fact no dog on stage, thanks for the reactions of the actors I found myself looking for the dog and buying into what the dog was doing. This theme was consistent throughout their actions, from travelling on a pony and trap to pulling Spider out of the marsh. No special effects were needed for this, just effective acting ability and an audience willing to use their imagination.

The beauty of the show and how it achieves the eerie nature of it, is that often very simple techniques are used to build up the tension.  They are however done so effectively that frequently the audience themselves are the ones screaming. A combination of low lighting designed by Kevin Sleep, effective sound design by Rod Mead and Gareth Owen and a juxtaposition of long pauses compared to sudden movements creates tension so thick within the theatre that you feel you could cut it with a knife.

The set does not just appear on the stage in front of the audience, from the earliest moments of The Woman In Black the actors come from the rear of the auditorium, they use these on a regular basis and this assists further in putting the audience on edge, feel that at any given moment they could turn around and be face to face with something from the show. On the stage itself the set is simple with a large wicker crate becoming everything from a desk to a pony and trap.

The Woman in Black has all the ingredients needed for the perfect ghost story, 2 actors that you immediately buy into, simple but oh so effective lighting, sound and staging combined with a clever and eerie story at its heart.   

The Woman In Black is on at The Fortune Theatre. To find out more about the show or to book tickets visit their website.

If you like this review you might also like my review of Emilia, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Vincent River

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