Theatre Review – “The Woman In Black” (National Tour – The Lowry, Salford (11 May 2013))

For over twenty years, people have been flocking to the Fortune Theatre in London’s West End to see the stage adaptation of Susan Hill’s spine-chilling novel.  In fact, I am fortunate to count myself among that group of people… three times over, in fact.

Imagine my surprise when, as part of my birthday presents, I got tickets for the last day of performances at The Lowry in Salford.

For those who haven’t seen it, a brief outline.  An old man, Arthur Kipps, has been living with the terrifying experiences of his encounter with a malevolent supernatural entity known as “The Woman In Black”.  To help him purge his nightmares, Kipps aims to recount his experiences to an audience with the assistance of an actor.  Through the course of the play within a play, the audience witnesses the full extent of the horrors that Kipps had to face in the village of Crythin Gifford and the reach that The Woman In Black’s curse holds.

You could be mistaken for imagining that after seeing the play four times that I could be bored with it.  However, this isn’t the case with the primary reason being Stephen Mallatratt’s clever script which manipulates the emotions of the audience.  What starts as a comedic tone with the actor berating Kipps for his poor delivery of the story changes throughout the course of the play into an atmosphere of discomforture as you are guided in Kipps’s journey to Crythin Gifford and the isolated Eel Marsh House and, ultimately, into a genuinely scary atmosphere as the story reaches its conclusion.

The play itself is carried by two lead actors and, as in the previous occasions I have seen this play, both were well suited to the roles.  Julian Forsyth, who has previously portrayed the role of the older Arthur Kipps in the West End (and who I have also seen as Doctor Dillamond in “Wicked” in 2010), gives an excellent portrayal as he reprises his role as Kipps – a scared man along with being an inept performer – along with the older male characters such as the terrified land agent Mr Jerome; Keckwick, the man of few words; and Samuel Daley, the seemingly confident land owner.  What makes Forsyth’s performance all the more remarkable, alongside other actors who have portrayed the older Kipps, is that he has to switch roles within scenes making the transition from an agitated Jerome to an unnerved Kipps, for example.

The role of The Actor was portrayed by Antony Eden.  Whilst all of the other actors I have seen in the role of The Actor were excellent, I must admit that Eden’s performance is my favourite.  He enthusiastically sells the humour of the early scenes of the play with his withering put downs of Kipps’s poor performance, but it’s Eden’s performance as the younger Kipps in the play within a play that is more impressive as he sells the sheer terror of the character’s experiences.

With a play such as this, the audience plays a big part to adding atmosphere as laughs change to uneasy giggles and, in some quarters, full-on screams.

This play has the power to grip the audience from the humourous opening to the terrifying conclusion.  Highly recommended.

If you would like to know more about the London production of “The Woman In Black” at the Fortune Theatre or the current UK tour of the play, please check out the information through the link.

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