The first thing I notice when I sit down at York Theatre Royal on Monday night is that the venue is pretty much sold out – there are dozens of teenagers giggling and whispering among the regular theatre-goers as the lights come up on stage.
The Woman In Black
York Theatre Royal
Until Sat Nov 22
But then The Woman In Black, based on the novel by Susan Hill, is also a film of the same title starring Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe – so chances are most millennials will be aware of its spooky existence.
In one form or another, Arthur Kipps (played by Malcolm James) is at the heart of the supernatural action. Travelling to attend a funeral of a client he sees a mysterious woman dressed all in black, and only discovers her dreadful secret when alone in an isolated house.
But in this version The Actor (Matt Connor) takes centre stage as the star of Kipp’s tragic and dramatic story.
By taking the ghost story and making it into a play within a play, writer Stephen Mallatrattz creates an other-worldly atmosphere while making you wonder about the existence of ghosts.
Arthur Kipps represents quite a few of us when he declares that he does not believe in such supernatural nonsense and vows not to be beaten by the mysterious figure.
Considering there are only two actors on stage for the entire performance they do a great job of keeping us entertained. The audience is fantastic – gasping, shrieking and laughing in all the right places.
Even myself – a stoic Englishwoman – can appreciate the lovely comic timing between the two men.
The story begins with the “real” Arthur Kipps reading from a manuscript in a monotone, as The Actor looks on in exasperation. So follows a series of scenes from Kipps’ past combined less and less frequently with excerpts from the present day.
As Arthur Kipps, and lots of other characters along the way, Malcolm James provides both gravity and humour.
I was genuinely impressed when he jumped from boring and droning to a bumbling and slightly hard of hearing old man (with the help of an apparently magical pair of glasses).
Matt Connor’s young jovial thespian – who is full of life and energy as “himself” versus the worried, panicky role of Kipps junior – is a perfect contrast to James.
I particularly enjoyed the chemistry between him and the invisible dog Spider.
As with all small cast productions, the play would not have the same impact without the extensive support of lighting (Kevin Sleep) and sound (Gareth Owen).
Both are very good, creating different environments within a sparse stage using just the sound of waves, or the shape of a hand against an oil lamp against the backdrop – a true tribute to traditional horror.
Where perhaps the scares could have been more subtle, and therefore more terrifying, there were plenty of obvious thrills including intermittent loud screaming.
The Woman In Black is still a decent ghost story, if not quite as chilling as The Small Hand, another Susan Hill story recently seen on the stage in York.
Helped by an atmospheric theatre and an enthusiastic audience, the whole experience was very satisfying. The production did an impressive job of both comedy and (particularly grave) horror.
I don’t know why they didn’t credit that other character though. I mean, she was onstage from time to time. But it was as if she wasn’t really there, like she was a ghost or something…