Have you seen the film “The Woman In Black”? When I first saw it I thought it was quite creepy. It had me on the edge of my seat – a bag of nerves! I’m not great with scary films. I generally avoid them, but I enjoy thrillers. The sort where it’s a bit of a mystery and keeps you in suspense all the way through. I don’t mind them being a little scary, as long as there’s no horror!!
So when I saw The Woman In Black advertised at the New Theatre in Cardiff, I was curious. Especially when I read that the whole show was delivered by a cast of TWO! How can they manage to do a whole production with just two people? How ever they managed to do it, the play had great reviews. Apparently they create a fantastic, creepy atmosphere and I just had to see it. So tickets were booked and a date was set in my diary.
We had fantastic seats in the circle, just along the side with a clear view of the stage. There weren’t many props on stage and the set was fairly minimal, but it all added to the eerie effect. The show started suddenly, taking everyone in the audience by surprise. A gentleman stood on stage talking faintly, reciting some lines. I could barely hear him, so I thought there was something wrong with the sound, and looking around, I could see that others in the audience were looking bemused too as we strained to hear his soft voice. Then suddenly, a shout came from the back of the room and a man started running forward – All part of the show! The man on stage was rehearsing for a play and the louder man at the back was teaching/directing him and telling him he was far too quiet and not captivating enough to keep the attention of the audience, and this is where the story began – A play within a play!
As the plot unravelled, we learned that the quiet gentleman, Mr Kipps, was the solicitor who wanted to tell his ghost story about the Woman in Black – the figure that had haunted him at Eel Marsh House – and he was being helped to deliver a performance that really made people remember his story. I can safely say it was a memorable show! The two talented actors quickly shifted between roles throughout the performance, stepping into character flawlessly at every turn on the stage, remembering nearly two hours of lines and dialogue for their various characters. It always leaves me in wonder and awe as I struggle to remember a few facts at a push, let alone an entire play! But the whole story was easy to follow, despite flipping from one character to the next. The few props on stage blended perfectly into the story, with a wicker chest transforming from a bed into a train carriage with just your mere imagination as the actors slept or travelled. It was extremely clever and just goes to show that sometimes simple is better!
The atmosphere created in the theatre was extraordinary. With some carefully curated sound effects, the audience (myself included) were on the edge of their seats. Ahead of me, a lady kept jumping out of her skin and dropping her bag every time something unexpected happened, and there were plenty of these occasions too. Part way through the show, The Woman in Black appeared. An actor that had not been mentioned or credited in the play. A ghostly figure draped in black, with a sunken face and a strong presence in the auditorium. She appeared from the back of the room and seemed to glide past me as she made her way onto the stage and she continued to appear throughout the performance despite having no lines to say. She was to be found in the boggy marshlands before Eel Marsh House, inside the once stately home that was now derelict, forgotten and abandoned and even drifting past the graveyard. It got to the point where I was starting to imagine her there, in the background of every scene. Now I’m not sure if this was my imagination at all. But with a crash of thunder and a slamming door, spectators in the audience were screaming in fear and holding their breath in apprehension as The Woman In Black haunted poor Mr Kipps. I never would have thought that a play with so few performers in the cast could create such a strong effect, and I left the theatre looking back over my shoulder at the silhouette of The Woman In Black, perched above the stage, staring into the crowd with unseen eyes.
This theatre production of The Woman In Black was possibly one of the best I have seen. My list of favourite theatre shows is ever growing, but this is definitely up there with War Horse, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Ghost, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Dirty Dancing!