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Creepy novella brought to life with a comedic twist

By thebuzz  |  Posted: November 20, 2012

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 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.

Simon Lewis

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  • little_charlotte  |  November 20 2012, 10:44PM

    I saw the production this evening and second your excellent review. I've read the book and seen the film, and love the fact that each is separate from the other. Each version takes the basic elements of the tale and gives them its own particular twist. This stageplay somehow managed to be exceedingly funny one minute and then utterly terrifying the next. The set is deceptively simple: the fears being created by ingenious, sensitive lighting, the few appearances of The Woman in Black, the great talent of the actors and director, and ones own vivid imagination. What a shame that, despite twice being told to turn off mobile phones, someone just above me received a loud text message as the play started, and another member of the audience (at the front in the side seats) towards the denouement of the whole piece, took out her phone and started texting. Unbelievably rude, not just to the actors but to the audience who were distracted by its glow. There really must be a way of blocking mobile phone signals from theatres and cinemas, as it appears some people are simply too ignorant to be able to understand the polite instruction to leave their phones alone. I hope that future audiences are more courteous to the fine actors and give this fantastic production the full attention it deserves. This play should not be missed.