“The Woman In Black” Theatre Review

For the last eighteen months, doors have been locked shut at venues and theatres across the country but, with events returning slowly over the last few weeks, the sound of live performance once again rings around venues. Last night it was the turn of the magnificent Grand Opera House in York to open its doors and welcome back audiences for live events and what a way to return.

A story that splits viewers down the middle, “The Woman In Black”, based on the novel by Susan Hill, was first performed on stage in December 1987 and is a tale that has also been adapted for the big screen with a movie starring Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe. Here in York, Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation of the story is a more low-key affair but, by the end, proves to be nonetheless chilling for it.

A sparse stage set-up throughout, and featuring only two actors (plus the occasional appearance of “the woman in black”) in Robert Goodale and Antony Eden, Mallatratt’s adaptation is a story of two halves. The first is a bit of a slow-burner, build up the premise for what lies ahead. Stripped down to its bare bones, “The Woman In Black” is a dark, creepy ghost story and, even in the first half where the story builds up the mood for the darker second half of the tale, the tension rumbles along quite nicely.

Aside from the splashes of humour this adaptation isn’t an edge of the seat kind of a tale and the second half shows that. With excellent use of minimal resources, sound effects and lighting, Mallatratt has created a production that flows effortlessly. It doesn’t feel disjointed in any way as the story and actors switch between scenes, locations and roles. As with all good ghost stories though, there is a requirement for “jump out of your skin” moments and “The Woman In Black” has plenty of those in the second half.

A tense, harrowing story rather than a gruesome one, the bleak atmosphere created for “The Woman In Black” helps the story move along at a steady pace and means that, when those moments come, the impact hits home much harder. You know they’re coming, you just don’t know when or how. Effective throughout, the tension builds to a gripping finale and one that wraps up this grim tale perfectly.

Having never seen the film or the original theatre production, it’s hard to compare this version to anything else. So, taking it on its own merit, “The Woman In Black” puts a great twist on the age-old subject of ghost stories and, even with the minimalistic approach, is an enthralling, creepy night.

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