Review: The Woman in Black, Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham
CREEPY night-time footsteps, terrified villagers, giant shadows, the unsettling sound of a pony and trap and that haunting, skeletal face: ladies and gentlemen, the fabled woman in black is back in town and guaranteed to entertain regally the sell-out audiences it has once again attracted.
So much has been said about this brilliantly clever piece of theatre, there seems little point in adding anything more.
Yet 25 years after Steven Mallatrat's chilling adaptation of Susan Hill's novel first scared the West End out of its skin, the fright factor of his creation remains high, and rarely has phrase "Less is more" seemed more apt.
That so little in the way of personnel, set design and dim lighting can have such a powerful impact on an audience, especially in the dark and claustrophobic confines of the Everyman auditorium, is a testament to the susceptibility of the human imagination and the genius of director Robin Herford.
It is equally attributable to the consummate skills of the two-man cast; Julian Forsyth (solicitor Arthur Kipps) and Antony Eden (the hired actor) delivered a masterclass in convincing characterisation and crystal-clear diction.
Anyone balking at the prospect of two hours of terror should take heart from this production's scope for amusement.
This is the fourth time in seven years that I have enjoyed this spookfest, but for my money this latest incarnation is easily the funniest. The frequent moments of humour, especially during the first act, far outnumbered the two instances of gooseflesh I experienced during the second.
No matter, there were still plenty of incidents to generate the requisite screams, especially from the vast legions of school students, for whom even someone tripping over a bucket was the prompt for a hearty shriek, yet they were also the first I have known to afford this play a wholly justified standing ovation. I am already looking forward to my fifth encounter with the shadowy lady.