King's Theatre Edinburgh (venue)
12 October 2021 (released)
Susan Hill’s acclaimed ghost story, which has been running in London’s West End for over three decades, comes to live in Edinburgh’s King’s Theatre. Don’t be fooled into believing this two-hander can’t deliver the chills, far from it – it is one of the most unsettling stage production’s ever. It was nine-thirty on Christmas Eve…
So begins the story of junior solicitor Arthur Kipps and his gradual descent into psychological hell although for the stage adaptation, playwright Stephen Mallatratt has tweaked things a little and turned it into a play within a play. Therefore the action doesn’t begin in Kipp’s London abode or even his workplace but in a deserted Victorian theatre where an old Arthur Kipps (Robert Goodale) reads from his manuscript though it would be fair to say he mumbles more than reading the words aloud. He is rudely interrupted by a young actor (Antony Eden) hired by him but who criticises Kipp’s delivery for lacking in excitement. After several further attempts and a number of quarrels it is decided that the actor should take on the part of young Arthur Kipps whilst the old Kipps not only narrates but slips into all the various other characters which creep up in the story - excluding of course the mysterious woman of the title.
We then travel back into an imaginary past (in fact, most things in this production are imaginary, including Sam Daily’s dog Spider) when young Arthur Kipps is instructed to travel to the small market town of Crythin Gifford to organize papers and other related affairs of the recently deceased Mrs. Drablow, a widow who for the last years of her live had lived as a recluse in nearby Eel Marsh House – an old and creaky estate cut off from the mainland at high tide. Only a causeway which more often than not is shrouded in fog, allows visitors to reach the creaky house… not that anyone is keen on visiting…
During his train journey to Crythin Gifford Kipps makes the acquaintance of local landowner, Mr. Sam Daily, who reveals a thing or two about the late Mrs. Drablow. After a good night’s rest (the following nights won’t be that relaxed…) Kipps meets up with Mr. Horatio Jerome, a local chap assigned to help him. Together they attend the widow’s funeral and it’s during the service that Kipps could have sworn a strange looking woman clad in black observed him from a corner, what’s more, the woman seems to look almost otherworldly and plagued by what appears to be a wasting disease. To Kipps’ surprise Jerome claims not to have seen anything, nonetheless both men hurry away from the church.
Another local man, Keckwick, agrees to drive Kipps to Eel Marsh House in his traditional pony-and-trap. Upon arrival Kipps makes himself as comfortable as possible in the old house but is somewhat disheartened to find stacks and stacks of letters and documents to sift through – meaning he may have to stay longer in Crythin Gifford and widow Drablow’s estate then initially anticipated. On this occasion, however, Kipps has no way of returning to the market town because thick fog makes it impossible to cross the causeway. As if this weren’t enough to worry about he hears the sound of a pony and trap crashing, followed by the cries and screams of drowning passengers, including that of a child. Kipps concludes the screams are not of this world… Unnerved by his experience and the fact that once again he is certain to have spotted the woman in black in the little cemetery behind Eel Marsh House, Kipps is only too happy when eventually he makes it back to his guest house in Crythin Gifford.
He knows that duty demands that he return to the creaky old estate and, seeing how no human being is willing to accompany him, he is thankful when Sam Daily ‘lends’ him his dog Spider for company. At first, all seems to go smoothly but when Kipps discovers that a locked room in the house is a nursery and that the empty rocking chair rocks back and forth as if an invisible force stood behind it he soon realises that this is only the beginning of unimaginable terror – a terror so powerful, it will have deadly consequences for his own beloved…
Designer Michael Holt and lighting designer Kevin Sleep skilfully manage to bring this terror to life in what appears to be a minimal set but…! Clever stage trickery and the sudden appearance of the mysterious Woman in Black (who glides across stage and walks up stairs like a spectre from hell) are bound to send shivers down collective spines. Of course, the biggest praise must go to Terence Wilton and Max Hutchinson for their bravura performances and effortlessly slipping into various characters.
THE WOMAN IN BLACK runs until Saturday, 16th of October, at Edinburgh’s King’s Theatre. For further info please go to: www.capitaltheatres.com