Darkness surrounds the stage. A door slams. A rocking chair swings.
The Woman In Black, one of the West End’s longest running plays, keeps notching up frightened but enthusiastic fans. No wonder that the play, based on Susan Hill’s novel, has been lasting for so long. The austere setting (two chairs, a wicker chest and some stage costumes), the superb use of special effects and the brilliant performance of the two actors, Ken Drury and Adam Best, make the play one of the most successful of its kind. The Fortune, a small and dusty theatre close to Covent Garden, is part of the play itself. A middle aged man named Arthur Kipps asks for the advice of a young actor to perform on stage the terrible events that occurred to him many years before. The two actors begin to stage the events and the two theatrical realities merge in a sort of meta-theatrical experience. It’s a story within a story.
The Woman In Black is not only a scary play. It’s a lesson on theatre.
A changing of the lights means a different setting, a changing of the clothes means a different character. In the beginning, Arthur Kipps has some doubts on how the story could be put on stage but the young actor reassure’s him, saying that recorded sounds will help people to imagine the setting. Kipps has to admit it: “recorded sound is a great invention”.
The Woman In Black has all the ingredients to make people scream and jump on their seats: a haunted house, a gloomy graveyard, and a deep and terrible secret. Arthur Kipps, played by the young actor, travels to a remote village in the North of England to collect the papers of a recently deceased client of his firm. Arthur Kipps himself plays all the other characters. The woman in black makes her first appearance in the church of the village during the funeral of Mrs Drablow. Tall, thin, skeletal white face, dressed up with a long, black, gothic dress.
From that moment on, Kipps, who spends several nights in Mrs Drablow’s house, is haunted by her ghost. Doors slam, the house is covered with fog; a little music box plays its childish tune. Kipps is petrified, his face tensed with fear. He can only wait for the coachman to pick him up and get him back to the village. Something terribly dramatic happened in that house.
At the end of the play the young actor and Mr Kipps look at themselves, still thrilled by what they have just put on stage. And here, the two realities merge again. The woman in black doesn’t only exist in Kipps’ far-off memories. She is here. The young actor saw her. Ken Drury and Adam Best give a brilliant performance. They are perfectly comfortable with their characters, injecting their fears and feelings into the audience. The Woman In Black will leave you with bated breath till the very end.