The Woman In Black

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. 

Tickets from £13: https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-woman-in-black/palace-theatre-manchester/

The Woman in Black

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It’s hard to believe that The Women in Black is celebrating its 30 year anniversary, such is its reputation and reverence it seems to have been around much longer. Doing for the horror genre what The Mousetrap has done for murder/mystery, the two plays are held in such high regard that seldom is mentioned of the shocks, frights, twists and turns: it is more just a case of take a seat and go along for the ride.

Based on the 1983 Novel by Susan Hill and adapted for the stage by the late Stephen Mallatratt, The Women in Black sees retired solicitor Arthur Kipps attempting to tell the terrifying story of his time at isolated and desolate Eel Marsh House, located in the market town of Crythin Gifford. To fully do justice to the horrors he encountered, Kipps enlists the assistance of an unnamed actor to help tell his tale. The two men are at odds with what they want from the experience: Kipps wants the courage to finally finish his story and put the nightmare behind him, whilst the keen actor wants to tell a fascinating tale using all the craft of theatre and performance at his disposal. What follows is a nightmarish journey filled with laughs and frights as we witness the full horror of Eel Marsh House and the sheer evil of The Women in Black.

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Both leads are outstanding: Matthew Spencer plays the confident unnamed actor, and the younger Arthur Kipps to perfection seamlessly drifting between brash showmen and a man trapped in a situation that is spiralling out of control. David Acton plays the older vulnerable Kipps as well as a variety of roles, both act as narrators throughout. Acton certainly borrows from Alec Guinness in Kind Hearts and Cornets to help with his transformation which is high praise indeed.

I would argue that the play has a third performer: the theatre itself. Within the first minute of the play Spencer strides from the back of auditorium and thus lets us know that space you occupy is part of the play and by design as the narrative progresses you aren’t safe in your seat either! Throughout the play you find yourself scanning the room to see where the next fright is coming. This is aided and abetted by some fantastic sound and lighting design from Gareth Owen and Kevin Sleep respectively.

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The script is surprisingly funny: punctured with humour, I laughed more in the first 15 minutes than I have at most supposed comedies; however this is a ploy, designed to sucker you in and make you complacent so that when the first scare comes it smacks you like a spade in the face. As the play progresses the laughs diminish and the frights more frequent.

It is a credit to not only the two leads: but Robin Herford’s direction that the play has the right balance of laughs, drama, and terror that keeps you keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout. It is a slow beginning but once it hits its stride and it’s thoroughly enjoyable.

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I’m not going to spoil any frights or big scares, however what I will say is that the reaction of some patrons sat around said a great deal: one lady said she nearly lost her lunch (and later claimed she almost had an even worse accident than being sick), several people gasped our Lord and saviours name and my arm has some heavy bruises where my friend held on during some of the more terrifying scenes.

The Women in Black is what great theatre should do: take you on a rollercoaster ride of emotions, at times makes you laugh at the same time as scare the life out of you. This is a truly outstanding piece of theatre and one that will still be celebrated in another 30 years time. If I could give one piece of advice if you are going to see it may I suggest getting rid of that old rocking chair… it’ll be for the best.

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The Women in Black is on at The Lowry until 25th March 2017, tickets are available here;

http://www.thelowry.com/events/woman-in-black