Reviewed by Alison Ruck
Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
A horror on stage? How on earth will that work? A question I asked myself before seeing this production. Susan Hill’s acclaimed ghost story: you may or may not be familiar with the 2012 film starring Daniel Radcliffe, whilst the big screen benefits from visual trickery and CGI effects that would have you believe everything you see, a live theatrical performance with a mere cast of two doesn’t benefit from these luxuries.
As stated from The Actor played by Antony Eden, an audience can use their imagination, and as truth be told your imagination will be the thing that haunts you the most through this production.
Arthur Kipps, played by Robert Goodale, is a lawyer obsessed with a curse that he believes was cast over him by The Woman in Black. He engages a young actor, played by Mr Eden, to help him tell his terrifying story. As we begin to observe the innocent and jovial play within a play, the story delves deeper into Kipps’ darkest memories, and you find yourself whisked away to an eerie estate in the country as they share his chilling tale.
Goodale and Eden present two very well-rounded characters. Goodale’s initial reservations about ‘acting’ out his tale of dread soon give way to a brilliant multi-role performance through which he changes with ease. His farcical moments give the piece much needed release from tension, ultimately lulling you into a false sense of security!
Eden offers a solid performance from start to finish, mimicking the reality of the audience by experiencing the horror as he tells it.
The sparce, seemingly small spacing is drenched with cloth and minimal décor, immediately creating that unsettling atmosphere, and as the production unravels the wonder of the staging is made apparent. The clever use of staging combined with simple yet effective lighting, creates the illusion of the manor house where the terrifying events took place. The shadows, created by the lighting designer (Kevin Sleep) epitomises a true and classic horror façade, amplifying those eerie scenes of anticipation and fear.
The Palace theatre seams the perfect setting: the theatre that dates back to 1891, seemed to creek through the silences, and every footstep or rustling from the audience was magnified by the expectant thrill of horror within the production.
The simple yet well-timed elements of surprise and jumpy moments were presented ingeniously. The audience follow each one with a laugh at their own vulnerability, which instinctively and somewhat disappointingly releases you from the clutches of Kipps’ tale.
The sound design, by Sebastian Frost, is yet another element that makes your spine tingle and your hands grip ever so slightly tighter to the seat. This in some ways achieves that big screen cinema feel of surround sound, with the clinkering noises and deathly screams echoing all around you and the theatre, thus mirroring perfectly the horror unfolding on stage from the two brilliant actors.
The power of the production truly lies in the suspense and expectancy. As a piece of theatre I really enjoyed it, but as a big horror fan watching a horror play, I wanted more: more suspense, more jumps, more thrill. However, this could be seen as a testament to the production that it left me wanting more of the elements it does so well.
Overall a brilliant piece of theatre – though not for the weak of heart. If you’re looking for a thrilling evening of suspense and classic horror then this thrilling ghost story will satisfy your imagination.
Playing at the Palace Theatre, Manchester until Saturday 28thAugust.