The Woman in Black is based on the book of the same name by Susan Hill. In the theatrical version, written by the late Stephen Mallatratt, we have Robin Herford playing Arthur Kipps, a man who, when younger, had to settle the paperwork in an old, eerie mansion called Eels Marsh. It is here that Kipps encountered the Woman in Black, and uncovered the mystery and doom surrounding her.
The play starts with Kipps, now older, being encouraged by the Actor (played by Anthony Eden) to bring his tale of the Woman in Black to audiences. Kipps is at first reluctant, but eventually understands that he can only relinquish his nightmare by recounting his experience.
Given this play-within-a-play concept, and with Eden and Herford taking turns to play Kipps (Eden plays the younger version), much of the play’s momentum rests on these two thespians. Much to the delight of the audience, both actors perform outstandingly. At times, both have to sport varying accents and speech mannerisms, and also veer between comedy and serious drama. Both pull all of it off with superb skill.
Also, given that the set is so stark, and a lot of the story’s setting is left to the imagination of the audience, the actors have the intense responsibility to keep the audience engaged with the story and it is a testament to Herford’s and Eden’s talent and acting prowess that the audience was kept entertained throughout.
Having said that, if you’re a modern media consumer of horror films and television shows, The Woman in Black will not be scary in the least, despite it being eerie and creepy with the help of mood lighting and the appropriate sound effects. In fact the two moments where the Woman screams just come across as cheesy and even a bit annoying, although I observed that the youngsters and more delicate people in the audience were genuinely scared by those moments.
Hence The Woman in Black isn’t as terrifying as it claims, but it certainly boasts of powerful acting and for that reason alone, this is a piece of theatre one should experience.