The Woman in Black, adapted from Susan Hill’s novella by Stephen Mallatratt, is the West End’s second-longest running play, just behind The Mousetrap. A show which holds itself to a lot of hype and expectation, it’s the perfect show for autumn nights.
To celebrate National Ghost Hunting Day, I was invited to attend a Ghost Tour before the show, as well as have a chat with the two actors, Terence Wilton (Arthur Kipps) and James Byng (The Actor).
The Fortune Theatre is seeped in history, as Dr B Vilder tells us on a ghost tour of the theatre. Before being the theatre it is today, the Fortune used to be the Albion Tavern, a popular pub which saw thousands of guests bustling through over its life time. You can almost feel the presence of the past as you walk through the auditorium, particularly by the ladder backstage, which reportedly is where tobacco is smelt by all, a link to the past pub owner’s ghostly presence. Walking backstage, we are told the back wall joins to a church, which later became a mass graveyard of bodies after cholera broke out – a haunting thought that we are presenting a story about ghosts whilst in a space where spirits are said to be felt.
The Woman in Black speaks for itself as a show, deserving all the praise it has garnered over the years. Susan Hill’s story is captivating, capturing both the attentions and imaginations of audiences, and the production itself is as enthralling a second time around. My friend and plus one for the evening, Jamie, who hadn’t seen the show before, was clutching onto my arm and “shook” (his words). Waiting for the titular Woman to appear, eyes glued to the stage, we were completely sucked in to Arthur Kipps’ world.
It’s a show which employs the simplest stage craft to create the atmosphere of terror that emanates throughout the auditorium: an actress, a few smoke machines, and some gauze are all that’s needed to create the chill which surrounds the show. However, for the best atmosphere, I’d book tickets for the centre of the stalls to really soak up the scares.
Going into its eighteenth year, the show has been given another lease of life. Not only has the interval been cut, meaning audience members are kept in suspense for longer, but there are two new actors taking on the lead roles of Kipps (Wilton) and the Actor (Byng). I was lucky enough to be part of a group to speak to the two actors, who gave us great insight into how their first month in the show had been going. Byng spoke about how he had seen the show on a school trip, and now being in the show himself, how much school trips really do set the tone for the show and their reactions help to set the rest of the audiences emotions, too. The pair also find different ways to surprise themselves every night so as not to make the fright appear too staged or fake.
Again, thanks to Raw PR for the invite to this event, I had a spooky time!