Review – The Woman in Black

Apr 23 2013 | By More

✭✭✭✭✩   Spooky thrills still endure

King’s Theatre
Mon 22 – Sat 27 April 2013

Ghostly goings on, bumps in the wings and shrieks from the stalls make the return of the Woman in Black to the King’s this week something of a treat for any fright-fans who have yet to see the play.

Antony Eden as The Actor in the touring production of the Woman in Black. Photo: Tristram Kenton

Antony Eden as The Actor in the touring production of the Woman in Black. Photo: Tristram Kenton

Not that there can be that many who haven’t seen the production, which premiered in 1989, is on its 29th cast and has toured to the King’s several times.

Based on the Susan Hill novel – as is the recent film with Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe – Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation is set in a theatre, where the ageing old lawyer Arthur Kripps (Julian Forsyth) wants to exorcise the nightmares of his early life by telling his story to his family.

To help him in the venture he has employed a young actor (Antony Eden) to advise him. And Kripps certainly needs the youngster’s advice as he starts reading the dry details of his tale in a low, tedious and nearly inaudible voice.

It’s a great set-up, one which starts from the novel, finds a way to draw out its essence and then weave the very fabric of the theatre into the story. Even if the touring production doesn’t have quite the chill of the original London production in the tiny Fortune Theatre, there is still an atmospheric intensity when the Actor brings in an unseen sound technician, Mr Bunce, to add an extra soundscape.

All the while the audience are like ghosts in the machinery of the production as the two performers add layer upon layer to the tale. And as it develops from Kripps’ original mutterings it soon arrives at the point where the Actor is taking on the role of Kripps in his younger days.

The test of a good ghost yarn is the way it haunts you

Kripps, himself, fills in with the peripheral characters who he met when, as a very junior lawyer, he was sent off to a remote village to settle the affairs of Mrs Aice Drablow, a recently deceased client of his firm. Forsyth plays it excellently, gently increasing Kripps’ participation in the telling and allowing the Kripps to become believable as the various characters.

Meanwhile Eden nips back and forth between the characters of the young Kripps and the Actor. By turns overwrought by the facts he finds out about Mrs Drablow, as the action moves to her remote mansion, Eel Pie House which lies across the Nine Lives tidal causeway where the sky towers overhead and the haar – or sea fret as the locals calls it – rolls in off the sea without warning.

The next second Eden brings the action right back into the theatre where Michael Holt’s clever design recreates the mansion, pealing back the layers as the the young Kripps gets to the heart of the mystery.

The test of a good ghost yarn is the way it haunts you. The frights and bumps in the telling are all well and good – and there are many and varied in this telling. But in the end they are just the decoration: it is the way it lingers on, through the bus ride home and into your dreams at night that will differentiate something special.

Which is precisely why the Woman in Black has endured. It might be an adaptation, but it is a great piece of theatre in itself. One which insinuates itself into the minds of those who see it. And this cast carry it off excellently.

Those who are not seeing it for the first time might notice one minor slip in its attention to detail towards the end of the first act. That slip apart, it is a properly scary piece of work that satisfies on many levels.

Running time 2 hours
Run ends Saturday 27 April 2013.
King’s Theatre, Leven Street. Daily 7.30pm.
Full details on King’s website:


The Woman in Black on Tour:

22 – 27 Apr 2013 Edinburgh
Kings Theatre
0131 529 6000 Book online
29 Apr – 4 May 2013 Cardiff
New Theatre
029 2087 8889 Book online
6 – 11 May 2013 Salford
Lowry Theatre
08432 086000 Book online
13 – 18 May 2013 Malvern
Festival Theatre
01684 892277 Book online
20 – 25 May 2013 Newcastle
Theatre Royal
08448 112 121 Book online
27 May – 1 June 2013 Leicester
Curve Theatre
01162 423 595 Book online
28 May – 1 Jun 2013 Newcastle
Theatre Royal
08448 112 121 Book online
3 – 8 Jun 2013 Guildford
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
01483 44 00 00 Book online
10 – 15 Jun 2013 Aberdeen
His Majesty’s Theatre
01224 641122 Book online


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