There are many things the English do better than North Americans, and one of them is to tell a tale of subtle horror. The Woman in Black is a perfect example of a great English scare. Based on the novel by Susan Hill, this stage production delivers subtle terror that will make the hairs on your arms stand up, as you shift uncomfortably in your seat. Halloween may be over six months away, yet we are treated with this delightful fright now. The Woman in Black will haunt Seattle Repertory Theatre through March 24, 2019, get tickets and more info here.
Mr. Arthur Kipp is an English lawyer and has been haunted by a ghost for many years. He solicits help from The Actor, hoping if his tale is finally told he will be released from the terror that has possessed him for a good part of his life. Many years ago he was assigned to go through the papers of an elderly widow, living reclusively deserted on a distant English moor. Ever linked to the ebb and flow of the tides, the road leading to “Eel’s Marsh House” is submerged most of the time, and the mansion is cut off from the mainland until the waters recede once more. A dense fog frequently rolls through making the road, and the muddied quicksand surrounding it, perilously indiscernible. Almost immediately upon arrival Mr. Kipp encounters the spectral woman in black; a ghostly figure that everyone in town knows of and avoids talking about, believing that her appearance heralds a child’s death. As Kipp goes further into the left-behind papers of his deceased client, he discovers the shocking secrets buried long ago. He is slowly dragged further down into the wraith’s terrifying story, and the horrible curse that is placed on all who see her.
There are only two actors in this production and they both excel in their roles. Bradley Armacost plays the older Arthur Kipp, as he begins telling his tale to The Actor. He does an excellent job of showing his nerves, his patience, his fear and the complete exhaustion of all three as he tries to finally become free from the curse of his tale. Mr. Armacost then transforms to playing the miscellaneous characters that The Actor encounters, as he assumes the younger lawyer’s role. The transitions are seamless, and the audience easily follows when The Actor takes over and becomes the younger Arthur Kipp telling us the story.
Adam Wesley Brown is The Actor from whom the haunted Arthur Kipp begs help. Mr. Brown does an excellent job showing the patience required to get the tale from Mr. Kipp, and then to put it into a stage production. Mr. Brown easily slips from The Actor listening to the main character amidst the tale itself, without effort. He shows the right amount of humor needed with the patience of his client, and the well-timed subtleties needed to let the story’s suspense slowly build.
The Woman in Black is a great example of a modern writer recreating Gothic horror stories. Its slower pace allows a stronger effect to creep up on those watching. The jumps and screams are honestly earned from the audience through proper setting and good acting. While the spectral figure does appear unexpectedly several times, her manifestations are often brief and indirect causing an impending sinister air to uncomfortably settle throughout the theatre. Adding to this ominous feeling is the fact that in the play’s program, there is no listing or credit to anyone playing the role.
The Woman in Black is a fantastic drama. It uses the play-within-a-play technique that differs from the original novel. There’s good acting telling an intricate story. The play draws the audience in, keeps their attention, and gives them more than one honest scare along the way. There’s no need to wait for Halloween to be frighteningly entertained. While The Woman in Black has been performed in the United States before, this production is the first official National Touring Company, and it shouldn’t be missed. Get tickets and go see The Woman in Black; it won’t be playing here in October! In 1983 Susan Hill wrote her first novel, The Woman in Black. In 1987 Stephen Mallatratt adapted the story for a small stage in Scarborough, keeping with the tradition of telling ghost stories at Christmas time. The success of the low budget production led to its larger adaptation in London’s West End in 1989. It currently still plays at The Fortune Theatre, becoming the second longest running play in the history of London’s West End. A film adaptation was released in 2012 staring Daniel Radcliffe in the role of Arthur Kipp. The film shows slight differences from both the stage production and the original novel.