Black to the Future
David Benedict revisits ‘The Woman in Black’ at London’s Fortune Theatre.
The Woman in Black shows no sign of closing, and with good reason. It’s a cracker. Abandon scepticism all ye who enter here.
What adapter Stephen Mallatraft and director Robin Herford have done is take Susan Hill’s eerie ghost story, provide it with a cunningly theatrical frame, exert the inescapable grip of great storytelling and send shock waves through the auditorium with splendid thrills and chills.
By exposing the process of adaptation, Mallatratt and Herford engage the audience still further, forcing them to do what audiences love best- work. The evening is a textbook example of the willing suspension of disbelief. Instead of sitting back and merely watching the story, we become utterly complicit in its unfolding. We will characters on, filling in the suggestion of the words on the almost bare stage to conjure up the horrors of ghostly Eel Marsh House and its ghastly history. As a result, the effect is far more scary than the bland TV version a few years ago.
From the beginning of the second half, the atmosphere is so charged-up that on more than one occasion the entire audience screamed in terror. The horribly disquieting final twist rests entirely in the imagination and is a tribute to the cumulative power of Hill’s original. As for the rest of this enormously satisfying show, I can think of a whole raft of writers who would benefit from watching such a marvellous exercise in spine tingling tension, spun from perfectly paced storytelling and stagecraft.
5 January 1998
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