This isn’t the first time the Woman in Black has brought its tour to Woking and I hope it won’t be the last, it has become of itself despite its fairly modern history, a story deserved to be counted amongst the great classic ghost stories of the likes of Wilkie Collins, MR James & Dickens and the play adaptation too is a welcome relief from what is usually frothy musical and touring tribute bands so often experienced in theatres just trying to stay open to offer some theatrical presence in towns across the country.
I arrived, scared. I have been before but still know it is different each time, the sudden shocks in different places. There were a lot of women in black milling about the foyer but luckily they looked chirpy and corporeal. I wondered if they were stealing her thunder – the real, actual, Woman In Black; outfit clashes can be an embarrassing taboo.
David Acton plays Arthur Kipps a man so traumatised by past events and held still, in their thrall. Desperate to lay ghosts to rest, he seeks help from an actor (Matthew Spence) to dramatise the events of a few days that, as a young man changed the course of his life. He needs help because he has never been able speak the words of his story to his family.
I took my friend Mary, she jumped and screamed like a big cry baby. I hadn’t really warned her (this was my third outing to the play) I am a frenemy. Well I say I didn’t warn her but my disclaimer is that I did whisper ‘brace yerself Mary’ as we sat down – not my fault she didn’t hear….
Based on Susan Hill’s novel, a torchbearer to the gothic ghost novel genre so favoured and flourished in Victorian Britain, they manage to pull off a theatrical coup – making the story so embedded in the audience imagination that the spare sets, lighting (a cast member in itself) and sound effects have you pulled in to all it’s horror, sadness and it’s comedy, for there are also a lot of laughs in it too. The atmosphere pervades throughout. To me, the play knocks the widely publicised film into a cocked hat, because it absolutely gives a chance for modern audiences to experience the art of story telling, the ghosts around the fire late at night, the primeval feeling of sensing threat, hairs standing up on the back of the neck. Not only does it tell a sad and painful story, one that spawns baleful jealousy from someone sent mad with loss but it also acts as a heritage piece giving people back something of a culture that seems lost. Not only a fine tribute to the story and it’s author but also the writer Stephen Mallatratt whose stage adaptation moves the action along so well. That it has successfully run for over 27 years is a great legacy to someone who has sadly passed away.
Though a double handed performance the dexterity of both Acton and Spence is such that it feels like a cast of many, the finely drawn characterisations that they move between has you in no doubt you are in the hands of masters of this craft and, as well as the light and shade and spare set means you have drawn in your mind vast marshlands and lonely mists, and imagine yourself seeing the Woman In Black so often referred to throughout. (No spoilers here I should get a theatrical medal I really should)
To see this play whilst in Woking get tickets here
Oh and wear sturdy pantaloons.
Here is a link to an interview with David Acton who plays Arthur Kipps in the second hour of the Radio Woking Fiery Bird Show where he gives insights into the play and the tour. Thursday 6 April https://m.mixcloud.com/radiowoking/fiery-bird-show-with-claudia-stark-featuring-david-acton-starring-in-woman-in-black/