WHEN reviewing a ghost story or a ‘Cluedo’ for the stage, it’s a golden rule not to give too much away so I intend there to be more teasers than spoilers in this piece.
The opening is set on the stage of an empty theatre. Except it isn’t empty, the auditorium is packed. A nice piece of literary irony as The Actor, (Anthony Eden) makes his first entrance from the behind the back row and treats us as if we are the ghostly bystanders. We can relax – we are of course just observers.
As to the set itself, it’s a very drab affair – aging dusty grey drapes strung from up in the Gods and others left where they seem to have fallen on the floor. This creates a theatre that has not been used in a long time. The only furniture visible is a large wicker props basket and a mundane meeting room chair.
On stage is a mumbling Arthur Kipps, (Robert Goodale), reading expressionlessly from his book of notes. He is apparently here to learn how to put across these musings in a speech he is to give at impending funeral.
The opening banter between Kipps and The Actor dispel any sense that we are here for a shocker – why this is more of a comedy and one of the actors is making a pretty wooden fist of things.
However, one of the most difficult things to do on stage is to act badly with believability. It is to Goodale’s credit that he is so convincing as Kipps the mumbler from the off. It makes his overall performance altogether stronger as he layers up from this to multi-task.
Likewise Eden goes from happy-go-lucky actor bullishness, to 50 shades of desperation. They make for a wonderful duo of storytellers and take us on a dark journey like no other.
The laughter in the audience ends about 20 minutes in with an effect that has us literally jumping out of our seats.
From then on the nail-biting begins in earnest. That drab, dusty opening set is full of surprises as designer Michael Holt presents us with a labyrinth of secret rooms, graveyards, pea soup foggy marshlands and much more.
Sebastian Frost has designed the sound to compliment – and at times lead – the action quite brilliantly – likewise Kevin Sleep leaves us in darkness so black we can hear our own heartbeats then crash! bang! wallop! we are blinded by the light.
Robin Herford is masterful in his direction, totally embracing the mystery with his imagination and milking the mirth moments to bring occasional relief.
The cleverest part of this script though, which Mallatratt adapted for the stage from Susan Hill’s novel, is that we, the audience, do most of the work. We are forced to use our imaginations, over and over again, believing both what we see and what we don’t.
As for the lady in black, well she’s not listed in the programme and so I’m not risking any curses by saying any more – I still walk round a chair clockwise three times if anyone mentions the ‘Scottish Play’ in a theatre.
Do go and see this show for yourselves – suffice to say that more is achieved on the shock scale in front of your very eyes than multi-millions spent on gratuitous screen gore.
This is indeed a classic.
Woman in Black runs at Malvern Theatres until Saturday, August 14. Click here for times, tickets and more information.
Review by Euan Rose.
Euan Rose Reviews.