A Hair-Raising Spectacle: ‘The Woman in Black’ Review

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Photo by Mark Douet

★★★★

Within minutes The Woman in Black features a jump-scare. You have psyched yourself up. You thought you were ready. And immediately, you’re on the back foot. Heart thumping in your ears, so begins the chilling tale. Performed at Liverpool’s slightly haunting Playhouse Theatre, The Woman in Black is a hair-raising spectacle that is enthralling from the get-go.

A three-person show, The Woman in Black is a masterpiece in creating handfuls of characters from subtle but effective prop changes. Each playing multiple roles, Malcolm James and Mark Hawkins are compelling throughout as they wend their way through the classic ghost story written by Susan Hill in 1983. Having been adapted into a film, and fresh off a 33-year-long West End run, the stage show, adapted by Stephen Mallatratt, stays truer to the novel. It tells of how Arthur Kipps (James) relays his tale of visiting Eel Marsh House to sort out the affairs of recently deceased Alice Drablow. There he encounters the ghostly figure of the Woman in Black and seeks out an actor (Hawkins) to help retell the story.

Flicking seamlessly between actors stumbling through a new script onstage and then falling into the characters of the story, James and Hawkins are remarkable. Captivated by their wit and charm, which slowly transcends into fear, the audience are kept guessing throughout. Immaculate staging sees layers of the set revealed bit by bit as the tension escalates and the creeping dread heightens. At one point the audience are struggling through a fog, and at the next, eerie torchlight explores the dark. It is a masterclass in the creation of unease as the audience are on the edge of their seats.

Easy humour lulls a false sense of security as spine-chilling scares keep heart rates high. A well paced script keeps the audience hanging on every scene as they check over their shoulder every so often for a sight of her. Although rarely seen, the titular character causes a stir upon each appearance. Terrifyingly omnipresent, yet just out of sight, the Woman in Black herself has impeccable timing and piercing stage presence.

Impressively creative, The Woman in Black is thrillingly immersive. Clever illusions and excellent lighting (Kevin Sleep) and music direction (Sebastian Frost) allow for a spooky narrative with twists and turns aplenty. Hailed as a Christmas ghost story, The Woman in Black is a must-see in Liverpool- although it might not leave you feeling as festive as it sounds.

Words by Hannah Goldswain.

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