Latest Review – The Woman in Black (UK Tour) (The Lowry, Salford Quays)

The Woman In Black

The Lowry, Salford Quays

Until Saturday 2 May, 2015

Almost three decades since it was first seen back in 1987, Stephen Mallatratt‘s chilling adaptation of Susan Hill’s 1983 gothic horror novella still proves one of the finest and most atmospheric pieces of British theatre around, continually enthralling with its superb blend of suspense, gentle humour and theatrical innovation.

“Proud and solitary, Eel Marsh House surveys the windswept reaches of the salt marshes beyond Nine Lives Causeway. Arthur Kipps, a junior solicitor, is summoned to attend the funeral of Mrs Alice Drablow, the house’s sole inhabitant, unaware of the tragic secrets which lie hidden behind the shuttered windows. It is not until he glimpses a wasted young woman dressed all in black at the funeral, that a creeping sense of unease begins to take hold.  This feeling is deepened by the reluctance of the locals to talk of the woman in black – and her terrible purpose. Years later, as an old man, he recounts his experiences to an actor in a desperate attempt to exorcise the ghosts of the past. The play unfolds around the conversations of these two characters as they act out the solicitor’s experiences on Eel Marsh all those years ago.”

First performed at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough in 1987, the production opened in London’s West End at the Lyric Hammersmith in January 1989, subsequently transferring to the Strand Theatre (now Novello) in February ’89 and the Playhouse in April ’89, finally settling at Covent Garden’s Fortune Theatre in August ’89, where it continues to play to this day.

Having only recently re-read the original novella, Mallatratt’s adaptation proves a very authentic and faithful one, retaining a good deal of Hill’s original dialogue, interweaving some effective moments of humour into the suspense and remaining true to the overall intentions of the original source, here however setting the piece as a staged memoir, within the confines of a theatre.

The problem I find with the touring production is that, in its current West End home at the small and allegedly haunted Fortune Theatre, there is a maximum capacity of 432, perfectly suited to the intimate and atmospheric style of the piece. The issue with transferring the piece to such a cavernous space as The Lowry’s 1700+ capacity Lyric Theatre – better suited to blockbuster musicals and big budget productions – is that the overall intimacy and claustrophobic intensity that has made the West End production so hugely successful is slightly diminished in such a vast auditorium.

The demanding two-hander is tackled with great skill by the outstanding pairing of Matt Connor and Malcolm James, in the respective roles of ‘The Actor’ and ‘Arthur Kipps’. It is very refreshing to see a piece of theatre which has thankfully not succumbed to celebrity stunt casting, instead relying on both the skills of two highly skilled actors and the renown of the piece itself; proof that the finest actors are more often than not non-household names.

Innovative direction, elegant staging, atmospheric lighting, chilling sound design and outstanding performances perfectly combine in this spine-chilling masterpiece of British Theatre.

Running Time: 2 hours, including one 15-minute interval.

Final Performance at The Lowry, Salford Quays: Saturday 2 May, 2015.

For more information and to book tickets, please Click Here.

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