The Woman in Black
Susan Hill, adapted by Stephen Mallatratt
Review by Philip Fisher
It isn't easy to remember what was playing at the Fortune Theatre in Covent Garden before The Woman in Black. That is because, quite remarkably, it has been on there since 1989. This veteran of the London stage celebrated its 15th birthday in mid-2003 and is still going strong.
Susan Hill's homage to Wilkie Collins started life as a novel. It is a fairly predictable ghost story with many of the usual ingredients - a long journey to a haunted house, an illegitimate child and loads of fog and quicksand.
None of this explains why this simple two-hander (plus eponymous darkly-dressed lady) is second only to The Mousetrap in its longevity. That is down to a superb adaptation by Stephen Mallatratt, under the direction of Robin Herford, with atmospheric and stylish use of both sound and light and the old-fashioned feel of a 1940s film thriller.
Pip Donaghy plays Arthur Kipps, a legal clerk with a story to tell while Colin Hurley is, appropriately enough, an Actor. As in Sir Tom Stoppard's The Real Inspector Hound, they cleverly enter into post-modern debate about the relative values of writer and actor before entering the action, swapping roles and time frames with abandon.
Kipps has been sent to tidy the estate of the late Mrs Drablow. All seems well as he treks north and meets some locals. However, at the funeral, he sees a ghostly figure.
The play then progresses with constant directorial twists to show the Tutenkhamun-like curse of the Woman in Black and to draw delighted squeals from the younger members of the audience.
The Woman in Black is becoming a part of London life and will continue to attract audiences for a long time to come. Its simple formula, good over-acting, lots of twists and a few chills sent down many spines has been around for as long as theatre. This may not be the most demanding form of dramatic entertainment but it makes for a good evening out, why ask for anything more?
Peter Lathan reviewed the touring version in 2007, with a different cast