Horror hardly ever works well on stage. Something about theatre stops scares in their tracks. We see the strings, we spot the tricks and we’re braced for things to go bump in the dark. The Woman In Black is the exception to that rule. It is a terrifying theatrical trip.
The second longest-running play in the West End, this startling two-man show has set audiences screaming for 30 years. A thrilling, stripped-back adaptation of Susan Hill’s classic gothic novella, it’s secret is simple: it relies almost entirely on an audience’s imagination. All the scares it springs happen in your head. Or do they?
Solicitor Arthur Kipps has rented a theatre and hired an actor to help him recount a horrifying experience from his past. As a junior, he travelled to the north east coast of England to execute an elderly woman’s will. Alice Drablow lived alone in the eerily remote Eel Marsh House on a causeway that, at high tide, becomes completely cut off from the mainland and Kipps, rifling through her belongings, finds himself trapped.
Attending her funeral he caught sight of a woman dressed in black with a wasted white face and, alone in the Drablow house, he hears unexplained noises out on the marshes: a horse and carriage rearing to a halt, the screams of a child and his maid. In town, he learns the history of the house – a story of a mother, a carriage crash and a dead child. Local legend has it that sightings of her ghost signal the death of a child.
Using only a picnic hamper and a few well-chosen sound effects, two actors conjure the misty and mysterious environs of the coastal marshes at the Fortune Theatre. Originally staged in Scarborough, Stephen Mallatratt’s simple stage adaptation has become a hallmark for horror theatre – one that sends you home uncertain as to whether or not you watched a play or caught sight of a ghost yourself.