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Review of Stephen Mallatratt’s stage adaptation of The Woman in Black at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal





The faint-hearted better be prepared as the superbly tense tale of The Woman in Black unravels itself at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal.

Based on the acclaimed novel by Susan Hill, Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation for the stage matches real suspense with genuine creativity.

We are pulled into two stories told simultaneously — flicking between a place of safety and one of fear.

The Woman in Black 2023. Mark Hawkins. Photo by Mark Douet
The Woman in Black 2023. Mark Hawkins. Photo by Mark Douet

An older Arthur Kipps and an actor rehearse in a theatre, recounting a ghost story as a work of fiction and entertainment; while we also see the story itself, as tense and gripping as if it were happening for real.

Before the show even begins, there is already a strange feeling with the stage being on a lean, almost as if the performers and props are falling towards the audience, creating an automatic sense of unease and claustrophobia.

The set up is basic — a few chairs, a wicker basket and some dusty old sheets are creatively used to transport the audience to a number of places.

Although not the type of horror story to which modern audiences have become accustomed, the show achieves in creating a truly mysterious and suspenseful thriller, with more than a few surprises to keep you guessing.

The Woman in Black 2023. Mark Hawkins. Photo by Mark Douet
The Woman in Black 2023. Mark Hawkins. Photo by Mark Douet

The young Mr Kipps, a solicitor from London, is sent to an isolated house in a barren and moody part of the north of England to settle the estate of a reclusive old woman following her death.

Upon arriving in a nearby village, Mr Kipps begins to notice the locals feel uncomfortable with his presence and is warned about going to the house, which lies across a marshy causeway, cut off by the tides.

Quiet, almost mundane scenes lull the audience into a false sense of security and we become engrossed with curiosity in Mr Kipps’ task as the papers he diligently riffles through in the ageing manor reveal a tragic tale of loss.

His enthusiasm to get on with the job soon turns to foreboding as unexplained sightings of a veiled woman begin to occur.

With the anxiety of our protagonist growing stronger in his isolation, fear becomes infectious, every detail is analysed, eyes dart across the stage, ears prick from the slightest sound — a strange noise in the night, a creeping shadow on the wall, is enough for hairs on the back of the neck to stand on end.

The Woman in Black 2023. Malcolm James and Mark Hawkins. Photo by Mark Douet
The Woman in Black 2023. Malcolm James and Mark Hawkins. Photo by Mark Douet

It’s amazing what can be achieved by two actors and a handful of coats and hats, but Malcolm James as Arthur Kipps and Mark Hawkins as The Actor play their parts to perfection.

However, this show would be nothing without its superb lighting and sound design, which grip hold of the audience, pulling us in closer and closer.

Overall this is a suspenseful and thrilling stage show that benefits from its simplicity and has the audience on the edge of their seats, when they aren’t cowering in them.

It is a heart racing, perfectly paced production, with more than a few twists and an emotional connection I was not expecting — I left the theatre with an equal lingering sense of curiosity and dread.

The Woman in Black is playing at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal until this Saturday, December 2.



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