Photograph (C) Tristram Kenton

LIVERPOOL PLAYHOUSE THEATRE

MONDAY 27TH JANUARY 2020

 

Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black is one of the world’s most infamous ghost stories.

Its Stage Adaptation by Stephen Mallatrat has enthralled and entertained audiences for decades.

Tonight, the touring production at the Liverpool playhouse once again proved why this terrifying tale still captures the imaginations of those who dare to revisit the story of Eel Marsh House.

The jovial and comedic opening dialogue between Arthur Kipps and The Actor may not seem the atypical opening to a ghost story.

Yet while the two play out the tale that Arthur Kipps has transcribed, the comedy soon descends into tension, as everything is not quite what it seems.

Using a few props and costume pieces, the story unfolds amongst the simple staging. A box can be a train seat one moment and a horse and cart the next. There is no need for elaborate set changes, as the actor’s performances take us on the journey.

Combined with excellent lighting design by Kevin Sleep and Sound that gets a knowing mention within the story as a marvel of technological development, the production is cleverly crafted and beautifully gothic.

It is as if we are sat reading Arthur Kipp’s transcription for ourselves and that the story is playing out in our own imaginations.

Photograph (C) Tristram Kenton

Robert Goodale is a phenomenal performer. Assuming multiple roles in the production, his transition from the older Arthur Kipps, to the various characters in the village surrounding Eel Marsh House is seamless.

Daniel Easton as The Actor shows exceptional character development, both as The Actor and the younger Arthur Kipps. His looks of fear are genuinely chilling as he investigates Eel Marsh House and his scream when he first sees The Woman in Black left many audience members jumping out of their seats. You feel every emotion that the character feels; a testament to Easton’s exceptional engagement with both the role and the audience.

Together, this duo took on the task of retelling an infamous story and delivered it flawlessly.

While the constant movement from The Rehearsal room to Arthur Kipp’s story often left the first act feeling disjointed, the actor’s performances kept you on the edge of your seats.

The second act flowed well; the lighting design enabling the smooth transition from room to room as Arthur Kipps encountered The Woman in Black in Eel Marsh House.

While a power surge in the second act paused the show momentarily, the tension for what may happen next in the story could certainly be felt as the audience eagerly discussed the events so far.

The final scenes of The Woman in Black suddenly appearing in a rocking chair or through a curtain were truly terrifying. The image of her face through the gauze on the stage was a haunting moment before the lights illuminated in the Playhouse – and one that stays with you long after you have seen the play.

It is easy to see why this production still draws audiences to theatres. It is terrific, terrifying and truly one of the greatest ghost stories ever written.

4 stars

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