Susan Hill’s The Woman In Black Review – Playhouse Theatre, Liverpool

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Susan Hill’s The Woman In Black

Format: Play
Genre: Thriller
Novel: Susan Hill
Adaptation: Stephen Mallatratt
Director: Robin Herford
Assistant Director: Antony Eden
Design: Michael Holt
Lighting Design: Kevin Sleep
Original Sound Design: Rod Mead
Sound Designer: Sebastian Frost
Production Manager: Simon Reynolds
Cast: Robert Goodale & Daniel Easton
Cover: Adam Radcliffe & Dominic Price
Review Date: January 27 2020
Performances: January 27 2020-February 1 2020
Location: Playhouse Theatre, Liverpool
Duration: 120 Minutes incl. an interval
Age Rating: 12+

Susan Hill’s The Woman In Black, currently showing at Liverpool’s Playhouse Theatre, guarantees audible gasps and screams from local audiences as they sit in suspense! Astonishingly effective lighting and sound design combine with a shocking storyline to leave all enthralled. This play within a play includes just two speaking actors, simple costumes and minimal set; however, this all ensures that the show leaves a lasting effect.

Synopsis

Unexpectedly, The Woman In Black opens with touches of humour as the actor (Daniel Easton) is unimpressed with Arthur Kipps’s (Robert Goodale) delivery of the script he is reading from. Kipps, a former solicitor, meets with him in the hope he will help him produce a small show telling real-life happenings which occurred whilst Kipps was working on a case. Despite much deliberation over the actor’s concerns due to the lengthy manuscript, the pair decide to start rehearsing.

A young Arthur Kipps takes a train ride to the East Coast in order to sort through the papers of the late Mrs Drablow, a reclusive widow. Kipps first encounters The Woman In Black at the funeral of Mrs Drablow, which he attends alongside Mr. Horatio Jerome (a local man who is helping him). The Woman In Black creepily walks through the audience before stopping behind the pair. Kipps turns and wails upon seeing her, and she then exits. Arthur questions Mr Jerome on the identity of the woman as he worries for her welfare, but Mr. Jerome is visibly distressed and insists no such woman was present.

After their return, Keckwick (a villager) comes on pony and trap to guide Kipps to Mrs Drablow’s house. On arrival, Kipps discovers the enormity of the task which lays before him and starts working through Mrs Drablow’s papers. He explores outside and finds an old cemetery. It is here that he encounters The Woman In Black for the second time. As the play progresses, Arthur aims to return across on foot; however, he becomes lost in thick fog. He retreats back to the house but before arriving, the sound of the pony and trap can be heard. Kipps, along with the audience, assumes the sound is Keckwick returning; however, the pony and trap is in trouble. The pony and trap can be heard driving off-course, resulting in passengers (including a young child) drowning. A panicked Arthur once again returns to the house. A deep red spotlight reveals a locked door which Kipps fails to open. The door has no keyhole or bolt. Once Keckwick appears hours later, Kipps begins to entertain the idea he is hearing not from the living, but from the dead, which sets the stage for the rest of the play.

Analysis

The Playhouse Theatre feels like a perfect fit for a production such as The Woman In Black. Once a Victorian music hall, the Playhouse allows us to backtrack many years as Arthur Kipps and the actor prepare to start rehearsals in an empty Victorian theatre. Both Goodale and Easton are great storytellers and capture the audience’s attention from the moment they begin.

Great lighting design (courtesy of Kevin Sleep) is used throughout. Lighting is often set to create eerie shadows to convey that The Woman In Black could be near. Numerous periods of complete black-out leave the audience curious. Additionally, the previously-mentioned deep red spotlight fixed upon the mysterious locked door of the nursery highlights from the offset that whatever/whoever lies behind the door poises great danger. Furthermore, the accurate set (credit: Michael Holt) depicts the emptiness of the house and, in turn the loneliness and fear that Arthur Kipps feels. A silhouette of a giant staircase behind the gauze is visible, and Kipps walks upstairs at times when exploring the house; the featured staircase emphasises how huge the property truly is. It pays to be aware of brilliantly timed bangs and dry ice, whilst the mist is used to create the image of a petrified Arthur as he submerges into the thick fog.

Summary

It is no wonder that The Woman In Black is the second longest-running non-musical play in West End history. Even the most literal thinkers will leave with a suitable yet unsettling feeling that our worst imaginings may really exist. For those brave enough, Susan Hill’s The Woman In Black at Liverpool’s Playhouse Theatre is not to be missed!

Notes

Target Audience: 12+
Content: 2/5 – Some Moderate Suspense
Recommendation: Yes
Overall Rating: 9/10 – Outstanding

Susan Hill’s The Woman In Black runs at the Playhouse Theatre until Saturday February 1 2020. To buy tickets, click here or call 0151 709 4776.