Thirty years after Susan Hill’s ghost story was turned into a stage play, The Woman in Black is still thrilling London audiences at the Fortune Theatre. I visited the show for second time in the run up to National Ghost Hunting Day. I may be ten years older than I was at the first encounter in my school days, but I still came armed with my dad for protection as we took a ghost tour of the theatre before a show that I only remember to be terrifying!
The chilling tale follows Arthur Kipps as he attempts to rid his life of ghostly memories. After writing an account of his experiences, he hires an actor to aid his recital but they both soon discover that the dreaded Woman in Black may have unfinished business with them both!
Whether you’re a fan of ghost stories or not, you can’t deny that this play has the right ingredients for drama. The script refuses to be dated, despite its obvious settings. The setup of the story, with the gradual retelling of Arthur’s frightening recollections and elusive secret, is clever and the perfect vessel to create nervous anticipation. Some moments are a little slow. Although you could cite tension-building as an excuse, they feel sluggish despite that. However these are few and far between, with the majority of the show being truly gripping.
The newly casted Terence Wilton and James Byng have only been settling into their ghostly surroundings for a month yet already perform the piece with conviction.
Terence Wilton’s take on the character of Arthur Kipps is one I truly warm to. He plays the transition from reluctant actor to confident player so well, with dry humour that eases you into the show and maybe a false sense of security before the ‘action’ begins.
“It’s a very simple piece of theatre. It’s two actors a plank and a passion – that’s kind of the essence of what theatre is. You get an honest response from the audience and they are an extraordinary ingredient. It’s different every night.” Terence Wilton
James Byng plays the role of the Actor with sprite energy that not only works well with his fellow character’s reluctance to ‘perform’, but also forces the audience to mirror the Actor’s sense of naivety as he persists with exploring the house he surely knows is haunted. This is definitely one of those shows where you go to hide your eyes but can’t resist peeking through your fingers, and James’ performance encourages the apprehensive curiosity that is perfect for the piece.
“I think it’s the best date night in a theatre. If you want to just suddenly have an excuse to grab someone in the middle of the show, it’s great. But essentially it does what it says on the tin. I think it’s beautifully crafted and a celebration of the theatre and storytelling.” James Byng
As James rightly mentioned in our post-show Q&A, it’s surely a show for first dates with the amount of jumping involved, but this gripping, inquisitive and technically superb play still has an essential role in modern theatre.
The Woman in Black continues to spook audiences at The Fortune Theatre, with tickets available directly or through a number of accredited outlets.
Production photos: Mark Douet