Susan Hill's classic gothic horror story The Woman in Black has taken many forms from its creation in 1980, from radio drama to Hollywood horror, however perhaps the production is at its most chilling in the two man stage play... it is of course this production that has travelled from its London home to spook audiences around the UK. This week the spirit has settled in the Lichfield Garrick.
This play relies so much on the unknown that there will be as little spoilers as possible during this review - seeing the play for the first time with an open mind and the blank canvas really does make The Woman in Black a thrilling night of entertainment.
If Susan Hill's use of Pathetic Fallacy in the novel was anything like the show we were about to watch, then we would be in for a night of classic gothic horror, as the thunder and lightning raged on our approach. The Woman in Black is an interesting concept, give two men, played expertly by David Acton and Matthew Spencer, a handful of chairs, a door, a hamper, a selection of sound effects and two hours to scare the pants off their audience: well this was achieved by the end of the heart stopping production. A testament to the power of imagination, creativity and superb performances in this two man show.
David Acton plays an aged Arthur Kipps in the production, his wonderful warmth and venerability is perfectly characterised however the essence of the trauma and heartbreak within the performance, buried deep, gives a wonderful sense of foreshadowing as the production unfolds. He had the audience in the palm of his hand in the opening scene, and they couldn’t help but warm to his characterisation of the loveable, troubled man.
Matthew Spencer plays The Actor, his ability to flip a line to become harrowing to hilarious in the space of three words shows just how skilful and thought through his performance was. Although his character was written to be more unlikeable at first than Arthur Kipps, you couldn't help but fall for Spencer’s wit and charm.
It’s clear the pair had gained a wonderful connection, which showed on stage, the trust they had in each other allowed for their performances to be more daring and really push the audience to their limits. The suspense that they built during their silences on stage worked well, however there may be a silence too many during the production, especially when there is no tension or danger being built on stage, these silences had a lot of the audience shuffling, waiting for something to happen.
The Woman in Black may not be the most terrifying theatrical stage experience ever made, but The Woman in Black is one of the most inventive, tense and at times uncomfortably scary plays that has been created. The fact two men can envision a dog, and make you believe that a dog is there, really does show the magic of theatre, superbly performed and directed, The Woman in Black is a treat for all the senses, and a show not to be missed.
But just who was that mysterious spectre in the theatre?
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