"Remains perennially popular."
-Time Out-

"A genuine, copper-bottomed audience-pleaser."
-The Stage-

"brilliantly effective spine-chiller"
-The Daily Telegraph-

The Woman in Black Tickets

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Will have you jumping in your seats!

Critic Rating

21 August 2012, Fortune Theatre
Rebecca Rebecca
Having seen the show about five years ago I expected to be as cool as a cucumber when watching the West End’s only Thriller, The Woman in Black, for a second time …I wasn't!

23 years into its run at the Fortune Theatre, The Woman in Black is still going strong and, thanks to the success of the 2012 film rendition of the tale (starring Harry Potter…I mean Daniel Radcliffe), it looks set to survive the plague of recent closures swarming the West End.

Stephen Mallatratt’s stage version of Susan Hill’s horror fiction begins in the realms of meta-theatre; a play within a play. The audience sees old man Arthur Kipps enlisting the help of a young actor to tell his horrific life story until play and life become one haunting jumble. As successful and charming a theatrical device this may be, I felt it halted action from setting in motion for far too long and it was only about half way through the first act that the story began to unfold and I became fully engaged (and terrified!) in what was happening on stage.

The choice of set is simple yet effective and encourages audience members to use their imagination above all which is perhaps one of the reasons behind the productions survival across several generations. For instance a smokey stage and a lighting stencil of a vast mansion are all that there is to depict the marshland beyond the deceased Alice Drablow’s manor, leaving the audience’s mind to question what might be lurking in the mist. Furthermore the audience was able to imagine Arthur’s canine companion through a series of well executed mimes and actor reactions. The imaginary dog became likeable which added to the poignancy of Arthur’s isolation as he ran free from Eel Marsh House thus leaving the man alone with the ghosts of the past.

The show has many ‘jumpy’ moments; the use of lighting is especially effective when revealing the ghostly figure of Alice Drablow in several unexpected places. The success of this perhaps lies in the intimacy of the theatre itself; at under 500 seats it is one of the smallest venues in the West End, so when the mysterious woman appears among the audience their shock and fear is passed through everyone in the room.

The production is generally clever as a whole; the twist at the end is especially surprising and the ghostly illusion is maintained throughout the play as the Woman in Black does not appear for a curtain call. Nonetheless I could not help but feel as if the success of the production lay only in a few moments of shock induced terror – it is the jumpy moments that attract audiences (mainly school parties) night after night. However, whatever the draw, this show is a solid couple of hours of entertainment in a more honest and direct style of performance that differs from the vast majority of other shows on the West End.

Where I sat: G 15-16 in the Stalls. Here I could see the entirety of the stage and felt extremely close (at times too close!) to the action.

Recommended: Yes. There is a sincerity in the way the show is delivered that is a welcome break from the bag of tricks reeled out but some other West End shows. Plus if you love a good scare, this show will be perfect for you!

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Genuinely startling and disturbing

Critic Rating

11 February 2012, Fortune Theatre
Tim Tim
Long overshadowed by other long-running West End shows, such as Les Misérables, The Phantom of the Opera, and its suspense thriller peer, The Mousetrap, The Woman in Black has nonetheless been playing to packed houses for over twenty-three years since its premiere in 1989. Based on the novel by Susan Hill, this is a fine example of mystery theatre at its shock-producing best.

Playwright Stephen Mallatratt adapts the novel for the stage by adding a play-within-a-play element. Ageing solicitor, Arthur Kipps, approaches an actor to stage a reading of his manuscript, which documents his terrifying experience as a younger man. When sent to settle the estate of the recently deceased Alice Drablow, Kipps comes face-to-face with the woman in black, whose appearance strikes dread into the heart of this remote village on the coast of England. As he delves deeper into the mystery surrounding this woman, Kipps uncovers her secret with horrific consequences.

The play-within-a-play conceit works well eventually, but we first have to get through nearly twenty minutes of exposition, as Kipps hems and haws over whether he can cope with reliving the horrors of his story. As a result, it takes a while to become engrossed in the tale, but the play picks up the pace considerably once both characters are fully immersed in the plot. The setup also allows us to forgive the minimal staging and provides one crucial final twist.

With David Acton and Ben Deery as Kipps and the actor, respectively, the production is essentially a two-man show, and these performers rise to the challenge with aplomb.  They are both masters of storytelling, and are able to build considerable tension and an overwhelming sense of panic without descending into histrionics. There’s some able stagecraft at work here too, with lighting and scrims being used to create a palpable feeling of suspense. There are many genuinely startling and disturbing moments, and whilst this play isn’t necessarily the model of British literature that the GCSE board deems it to be, it’s an entertaining piece that offers something different to the West End theatre scene.

Where I sat: C17-18 in the Upper Circle.  Whilst I could see most of the stage, I felt fairly cut off from the action, and I missed some moments that were played far upstage. The production relies on the atmosphere it builds, so I would definitely recommend paying a bit extra for good stalls or royal circle seats.

Recommended: Yes, if you like theatrical thrillers, this is your best bet in town.

 

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Sam Marlowe
"...The shrieks and gasps that greet the performance demonstrate that, even in the twenty-first century, this doughty little drama still casts its delicious spell of malevolence and menace."

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John Martland
"It may be celebrating its 15th year in the West End but ten minutes before curtain-up, the mid-week box office queue for this ‘vintage thriller to cherish’ still spilled out onto the pavement. Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation of the novel by Susan Hill remains a genuine, copper-bottomed audience-pleaser."

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Charles Spencer
I’m ashamed to admit that although it has been running in the West End for more than 13 years, I have never previously seen The Woman in Black. Many readers will, therefore, be able to retort, “We know already, you tardy oaf” when I retort that the show, cunningly adapted by Stephen Mallatrat from a novel by Susan Hill, is one of the most brilliantly effective spine-chillers you will ever encounter. A new cast has recently joined the production, and, if you haven’t seen the show already, you are missing a real treat. I’d particularly recommend the show to families with children who have outgrown panto and The Lion King – and shy young couples on their first date...I have never witnessed an audience jump and gasp in such genuine shock as they do here. What I like best about the show is that, as-well as containing all the ingredients of a classic ghost story, complete with deserted mansion, haunted graveyards, and locals who don’t dare breathe a word of the horrors they have witnessed, it also celebrates the imaginative possiblilities of theatre itself.... This is deliciously old-fashioned popular entertainment at its very best.

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