Theatre Review: The Woman in Black at the Regent

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Do you want to spend an evening being totally scared out of your wits? Do you want to be made to jump in terror even when the dread is in your mind rather than before you on stage? If the answer is yes, then you really must pay a visit to this week’s production of The Woman in Black at Hanley’s Regent Theatre.

The play in question has been on the list of must-see spine-chillers ever since it first saw the light of day back in 1987 as a faithful reproduction of Susan Hill’s book.

Adapted by Stephen Mallatrait as a play within a play, the action revolves around the experiences of Arthur Kipps. Kipps was a young solicitor when he was asked to attend to the estate of the late Mrs Alice Drablow in the market town of Crythin Gifford.

Kipps was bewildered by the locals’ reluctance to speak to him but a night spent at his late client’s Eel Marsh House more than explains this reticence and sights of the Woman in Black propel him to the tragic ending.

Now, in later life, Kipps is desperate to exorcise this terrible episode from his life by telling his tale to an audience. He is persuaded by the only other member of the cast – simply known as The Actor – to turn the experience into a performance. This gradually evolves so that The Actor plays Kipps with Kipps playing all the other roles.

There are comedic interludes particularly when The Actor persuades Kipps to come out of his comfort zone by “being an Olivier” but these only serve to contrast with the horrors to come as the audience is drawn into an atmosphere of intimacy. The watcher is made to feel part of a group sitting round a camp fire telling spooky stories. That intimacy allows the cast to play mind games with the audience, to permeate the imagination and provoke inner spine-tingling horrors for each individual viewer.

This could only work with strong performances from the actors and exceptional work from the creative team. Robert Goodale as Kipps and Daniel Easton as The Actor both play their parts to perfection but they are ably backed by crisp Direction from Robin Herford and a Design team headed by Michael Holt.

A stripped-back stage setting is used and this forces the audience member to use his imagination. Once persuaded that a wicker basket can be as varied as a table and a pony trap and that Spider the Dog can be seen gambolling on the set then the mind is open to manipulation. Then, all it takes is very intelligent use of lighting, sound and visual effects to complete the sensation. These are constantly used to heighten the tension and rarely has a smoke machine been used to such great effect.

This is a performance not to be missed, but please accept one piece of advice. Do not go alone. You will probably need someone to cling on to and get you safely home!!!

I managed to catch up with the two cast members, Robert Goodale & Daniel Easton for a chat:

Performances continue until Saturday November 9th. Contact atgtickets.com/Stoke (08448717649) for details