When the lights went down on the version of The Woman in Black at the Fortune Theatre, Russell Street, London, adapted by Stephen Mallatratt, I had neither read the 1983 book nor seen the 2012 film adaptation. Therefore, based on the comments on the posters, I anticipated an evening of unrelenting psychological drama. Frankly, given what little I knew about the plot, I was completely prepared to watch the scariest bits from behind my fingers (if not from behind the sofa, like the cybermen from William Hartnell’s original 1960s Dr Who). Fortunately I was excused this embarrassing public ignominy.
The scares in the stage version, (dark though the story is), owe more to the time worn theatrical tricks of frightening people. An intense, atmospheric build-up is followed by an unexpected burst of noise or action. Basically, the equivalent of someone jumping out and shouting “Boo!”.
I loved it. It’s about the maximum level of shocks that this reviewer will willingly pay for. Put it this way, I required a stiff dose of smelling salts when I discovered that David Cameron had managed to win a majority. Now that truly chilled the blood.
The show is utterly effective, and the commitment of the actors is never less than 100%. In fact I came away with a deep admiration for the sheer effort put into the performances, night after night. For this adaptation to succeed, neither of the two main performers can be less than firing on all cylinders, and they gave their all during the show. Then again, isn’t every enterprise built on the physical labours of those at the coalface?
I thoroughly enjoyed this show, and I heartily recommend it. It’s an adaptation which is entirely suited to such a relatively small, intimate theatre (which was home to the Beyond the Fringe review when it transferred from Cambridge). Whether you need to bring along a bottle of smelling salts I leave to individual discretion.
NB. The filmed version is vastly inferior, mostly because of a woefully miscast Daniel Radcliffe.