Terror on stage...

The Woman In Black
The Woman In Black

The Woman In Black will be sending its shivers and chills through the audience at Portsmouth’s New Theatre Royal from March 27-April 1

Susan Hill’s ghost story comes dramatically alive in Stephen Mallatratt’s ingenious stage adaptation. Now celebrating 27 years in the West End, Robin Herford’s production offers a study in atmosphere, illusion and controlled horror.

And David Acton, who plays Arthur Kipps, is delighted to say it has lost none of its impact.

“It is extraordinary how it works. There are so many elements, but essentially it is a great story, beautifully staged and beautifully written.

“You start and there is nothing more than a drab empty set and an old man, and out of this emerges the most extraordinary story, all these different things, all summoned by the imagination. It is a celebration of the theatre. It is the perfect theatre piece. And it all came from having no money!

“It was originally done in Scarborough, and they had their Christmas show, and they had a little bit of budget left. Alan Ayckbourn said to Robin Herford he had a little bit of money and if he wanted to do an alternative Christmas show, then he should go ahead. Stephen Mallatratt said he thought he could do The Woman in Black – and they said ‘How? It has got a dozen characters! You can have four at most!’ But Stephen managed to do it with just the two.

“And for us, having it as a two-hander is another part of the joy. I think the audiences enjoy that too, seeing so much coming from just two actors. I have done one or two two-handers before, but with this one it is the quality of the language as well. We had two Saudi Arabian women in who were on holiday, and they were saying the language was almost like listening to Shakespeare.”

In the piece, a lawyer obsessed is with a curse that he believes has been cast over him and his family by the spectre of a Woman in Black. He engages a sceptical young actor to help him tell his terrifying story and exorcise the fear that grips his soul. It all begins innocently enough, but then, as they reach further into his darkest memories, they find themselves caught up in a world of eerie marshes and moaning winds.

“This older man, who is in his 60s, when he was a younger man had a really terrible traumatic thing happen to him that has left him as a nervous wreck. He has never been able to talk about it. He needs to tell his family and friends what happened to him, but he can’t and so he writes it all down as a story. He knows that if he reads the story, he won’t be very good, so he goes to see a young actor in the theatre to get some advice to make the reading more interesting. The actor tells him he can’t just stand there and read it for five hours. He says that they should act it out. At first the old man is very resistant…”

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