Photos: Mark Douet

Where others fail, this skilful masterpiece of modern theatre continues to chill and to thrill. But perhaps modern is no longer rightly applied, after all this adaptation of Susan Hill’s brilliant story is now some 37 years old and has been around almost non-stop ever since.

Adapted by Stephen Mallatratt the whole is revealed by two actors who take on the task of telling the tale in the most compelling way. The staging is simple, the audience commanded to suspend belief, open up their imagination and immerse themselves in storytelling, as if gathered around a firedand sharing ghost stories.

To do this of course requires some very fine playing, precise direction and outstanding stage craft. Last night, and for my third time seeing this, we had the complete deal. The staging seems somewhat slicker, no increase in technology, this is done using traditional stage craft, but somehow it felt like new life had been breathed into a tale of death. The lighting is so well designed, the set continues to work and the soundscapes are delivered with precision and poignancy.

The cast, for the most part a two hander, has to be absolutely on the money to pull this off and I have never seen it better done than by Malcolm James and Mark Hawkins. James plays Kipps, the central character in the tale, a meek and modest soul haunted by his past but driven by a need to share his story. It is a very fine performance and one that demands, in the unravelling, that he portrays a number of incidental characters, which he does with style never once resorting to cliche.

Mark Hawkins plays the actor engaged by Kipps to help him deliver his tale, a task requiring his dramatic skills but also his empathy and a great deal of patience, Hawkins is more than up to the job and delivers the role with power, clarity and a real sense of terror.

The Woman In Black is by far the best piece of theatrical ghost story telling and one that stands the test of time. Achieving the status of the second longest running non-musical piece of theatre in then West End, there is little doubt that this magical production has the chance of returning again and again, I certainly would not hesitate to see it for a fourth time and maybe more, and I will wager that I will still jump and shiver as the plot unfolds.

Andrew Kay

27 February

Theatre Royal Brighton

Rating: ★★★★★

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