According to the official Woman in Black website, over seven million people have now experienced what it feels like to jump so violently you splash wine all over yourself and the unfortunate person behind you. Protagonist Arthur Kipps, a solicitor placed in charge of the affairs of Mrs Alice Drablow following her sudden death, travels to the remote village of Crythin Gifford to attend her funeral. Here, he first encounters the dreaded woman in black.
What follows is a disturbing series of events, set in and around the mysterious and imposing Eel Marsh House, a fittingly gothic location for the horror-fest that ensues. Covent Garden’s Fortune Theatre has been hosting performances of Susan Hill’s now seminal play since 1987, and it remains as popular as ever.
Even through the excessive amount of smoke used in the performance, the reasons for its lasting appeal are not hard to decipher. First of all, it is a brilliant story, amalgamating all the tropes of the gothic genre and throwing in a few surprises to boot.
…a minute cast of just three actors creates a feeling of intimacy…
The set is simple yet innovative and has become so iconic that it is almost identical no matter which theatre you go to. Added to this, a minute cast of just three actors creates a feeling of intimacy, and the frequent scares serve to bind the audience together as a collective.
Patrick Drury and Anthony Eden, the two main actors, bounce well off one-another, even though both have an irritating tendency to overact. Partly because of this, the show felt melodramatic and despite some really quite disturbing narrative undertones the ‘horror’ promised on every poster was sadly absent.
Despite the lack of real suspense, the set was as fantastic as ever, and I certainly jumped more than a few times.
Despite the lack of real suspense, the set was as fantastic as ever, and I certainly jumped more than a few times. The script was inventive, but the new comedic elements confused the audience and they often laughed even when it was clearly intended that they should be screaming.
This is not to say I didn’t enjoy myself. It was still a great night out, even if I did feel the integrity of the story was somewhat compromised. Although there is no denying that there were flaws in this particular performance, this can change drastically from one evening to the next and should not discourage you from inferring your own opinion.
The fact remains that the ‘Woman in Black’ is a cornerstone of British theatre, and there are good reasons for this. If you have never seen it, you truly are missing out.