First-night review: The Woman in Black

Arthur Kipps (Malcolm James) seeks the assistance of an actor (Matt Connor) to tell his harrowing tale
Arthur Kipps (Malcolm James) seeks the assistance of an actor (Matt Connor) to tell his harrowing tale

The stage adaptation of Susan Hill’s infamous novel has been enjoyed - and most definitely feared - for many years.

The Woman in Black

Theatre Royal

New Road, Brighton

Until Saturday, January 17

The stage adaptation of Susan Hill’s infamous novel has been enjoyed - and most definitely feared - by audiences across the globe for many years.

I must confess that, having already seen the film (released in 2012), I entered the theatre with a distinct feeling of confidence that I would know what to expect.

How wrong I was.

The well-written narrative and intelligent exploration of stagecraft brings the stage adaptation to life, beyond anything a screen can achieve. Accompanying the sincere sense of reality, is a greater feeling of tension and fear, that can be felt throughout the audience.

The Woman in Black tells the story of London-based lawyer, Arthur Kipps (Malcolm James), who is assigned the seemingly-mundane task of travelling to an obscure English town to settle the affairs of a recently-deceased widow, Mrs Drablow. Mr Kipps, is initially puzzled by the evasive nature of the locals whenever Mrs Drablow and her estate are mentioned.

Yet, after a few unexplainable experiences, it soon becomes apparent to Mr Kipps that the town is overcast with a dark, ominous presence - a spectre of some sorts. The enigmatic ghost of the Woman in Black.

Many years later, disturbed by the dark experience, Mr Kipps visits an actor (Matt Connor). He deems it necessary to tell his harrowing tale, as this is the only way the ghost will leave him. In order to tell the story, the actor poses as Mr Kipps, while Mr Kipps portrays all other characters he met throughout the story.

The audience is initially relaxed due to the form of meta-narrative as the two fumble together the story. The atmosphere very quickly changes, as the feeling of a dress-rehearsal turns to reliving harrowing details of the experience - helped by some fantastic lighting and sound effects.

Unlike anything I have ever watched, the audience finds itself truly immersed in the spine-chilling story. As the lighting darkens, it quickly feels as if the partition between stage and stalls has disappeared - the auditorium was a part of the show. And, in turn, just as likely to be haunted by the ghost.

Nervous seat-shifting and sudden screams are a guaranteed gift when one experiences the power of The Woman in Black.

The story may be a fictitious piece of literature, unbelievable to most. Yet I imagine that almost every audience member thought about the ghost’s opaque black veil before going to sleep that night.

The Woman in Black is showing at Theatre Royal Brighton until January 17. For tickets, click here or call 0844 871 7677