Thursday, 7 July 2022

REVIEW: The Woman in Black at the Fortune Theatre

It has been three decades since the imaginative adaptation of Susan Hill’s 1983 Gothic horror story launched itself onto the London stage. Suspense, surprise and sensational storytelling have always been what has drawn people of all ages to The Woman in Black, and 33 years on, it captivates its audience all the same. Serving as one of the longest-running plays in the West End, can a thirty-year-old production with thirty-year-old set design and special effects still fuel a fearful reaction? Absolutely!

Firstly, a comment must be made about the Fortune Theatre itself; small, intimate and gothic in style, it complements the production to perfection with its eerie ambience and brooding interior. The modest size of the auditorium instils a premeditated apprehension of when and where the woman in black will appear – “We’re sat in the middle, good. We’re safe from her here,” I jested. “That was exactly my thought,” chuckled a man in the row behind me. We were both being completely serious.

The Woman in Black narrates the story of an ageing Arthur Kipps who has lived, haunted by frightful events that occurred to him decades prior. In an attempt to share his experience and relieve him from his torment, he hires an actor to tell his story to an audience of invited friends and family. As the rehearsals progress, we are immersed in a feast of physical theatre, role swapping and gear-changing shifts of comedy and trepidation. Whilst in the midst of the tale, we are met with supernatural appearances from a veiled, decaying, gaunt-faced woman whose presence alone is enough to make you turn pale. 

The set, of course, ageing with the production still works as a dream. Minimalist and humble, the front part of the stage – their rehearsal space, holds a huge storage hamper filled with props, and a clothing rail, for the many coats of characters each actor portrays. A gauze dividing the stage depicts several scene changes from a graveyard, and rickety staircase to a ghostly nursery. The soundscape is the true mood creator of this production, conveying the hustle and bustle of London, the clip-clop of a horse and carriage and the deafening screams from our ghoulish antagonist. 

Julian Forsyth (Arthur Kipps) and Matthew Spencer (the actor) portray their characters with such wonderful conviction, and clear and precise transitions as they change into the next part they employ. Their commitment and form have us onside with them from the get-go, including the comical moment an invisible dog enters the stage. 

This chilling production does not disappoint and casts its spell of wickedness and terror onto all who spectate. This timeless play is booking until April 2023 and you would be a fool not to experience this taste of delicious angst. 

Review by Esther Neville

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Stalls G7 | Price of ticket: £55.00
Blog Design by pipdig