Skip to main content

Review of The Woman In Black at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

In the world of modern theatre, The Woman in Black doesn't need any introduction. Now over thirty years since the actors first trod the boards in Scarborough telling Susan Hill's story, through Stephen Mallatratt's stage adaptation, this show has packed the audiences in and travelled widely. When the play opened in London in 1989, few probably thought it would still be there 30 years later, but there it stays, thrilling audiences. So, it's a pretty good play, right? Let's see.

Arthur Kipps (Robert Goodale) has a story to tell, a horrific one based on his own experience after travelling to Eel Marsh House, the final home of the late Mrs Alice Drablow. To tell his story, and to relate his "five-hour" tale, he seeks the help of "The Actor" (Daniel Easton), and a ramshackle theatre, which fortunately does have a good sound system and sound engineer. So, Kipps' story can be told.

I first saw The Woman in Black five years ago, and back then, I commented much then, the same as I might now, that this ghost story is actually more amusing than it is scary. This isn't funny as in laughing at how unscary it is, but more that it deliberately seeks to make you laugh. From the outset and Kipps' mumbling first performances, and onto the number of ways they stage the story, this is a proper entertaining humourous play. It's scares come in moments of shock, and while tension builds at times, it is never horrifying scary. Well, for me anyway.

As a two-hander, this play needs some highly talented individuals. Goodale and Easton and splendid, creating the story so simply before our eyes, with few props, or visual flairs, they blend into their individual characters superbly, with a new accent or new mannerism, this is predominantly as actors play.

Goodale's Kipps builds from the nervy non-performer over days with the actor to become an actor of repute himself telling his own story. Perhaps looking back, the pair of spectacles moment is a little outlandish, but it remains a magical little moment all the same and does in a way relate how simple changes can be made. Either way, Goodale brings immense depth to his character and works with Easton superbly.

Easton's "actor" is broad and powerful from the outset, full of energy, experience and drive. Pushing, and pushing at Kipps to put energy into his performance, to live his own story again. His switches of character and stage presence are excellent, and he commands our attention.

Both actors also have the challenge of being their own stage managers and drive the scenes and props. It helps that Michael Holt's design is both simple, yet perfect, of course, stripped back and never overcomplicated. This with some superb lighting from Kevin Sleep, reds and whites strong, and sound from Sebastian Frost makes the whole atmosphere build.

It's a simple show really, the best shows usually are. Its accessibility I suspect is what has made it continue to be a success and its one that deserves a rewatch as well, even if you have seen it before. As it is, if you are either a regular or occasional theatre-goer, it's one to see, and while you may jump, even if you are a nervous person, I think The Woman in Black will be something for you to relish in.


Performance viewed: Monday 30th September 2019 at the Royal & Derngate (Royal).

The Woman In Black is at the Royal & Derngate until Saturday 5th October before continuing its tour. For full details visit the website at http://www.thewomaninblack.com/

Photos: Vanessa Valentine/Michael Shelford


Popular posts from this blog

Review of Blue/Orange at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

The challenging and socially relevant Blue/Orange by Joe Penhall was published in 2000 and back then, this caustic exploration of mental health, and more specifically black mental health issues, was a tremendously relevant play. When it debuted on stage in London, the cast of just three was played by Bill Nighy, Andrew Lincoln and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Director James Dacre doesn't have those names to play with so much in his cast, however here, he has worked with the writer himself to rework the play for a more modern audience. Does it still shock, and is the relevance still there today? Sadly, perhaps, the answer is yes, as doctors Bruce Flaherty and Robert Smith come to verbal blows over the health of patient Christopher, at times, you feel 21 years shed little light on how mental health is approached. Many references in the script, still sit unquestionably in the year 2000, however, with this reworking, one thing has changed dramatically. In the original version of the play, the two

Review of Shrek (NMTC) at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

Three and a half years ago, in a land far far away, in a world very different to the one we are now in, I saw the touring professional production of Shrek The Musical , it was a mixed bag of quality, tilted extremely heavily in favour of one particular character (not the one you might expect) and not firing on all cylinders much of the time. One and a half years after my last visit to the Derngate theatre, I return to see the homegrown Northampton Musical Theatre Company's own take on the very same show. Would they be able to breathe more life into the show than the professionals did in that distant land? It is a bit of a yes and no really. Pretty much all of this is done to the best possible standard, and at times, with being an amateur show you could easily forget, they all have normal day jobs. The show oozes professional quality at times. The set looks magnificent, the costumes (from Molly Limpet's Theatrical Emporium) are superb, and as ever with NMTC, the backstage team c

Review of Hacktivists by Ben Ockrent performed by R&D Youth Theatre at Royal & Derngate (Underground), Northampton

The National Theatres Connections series of plays had been one of my highlights of my trips to R&D during 2014. Their short and snappy single act style kept them all interesting and never overstaying their welcome. So I was more than ready for my first encounter with one of this years Connections plays ahead of the main week of performances at R&D later in the year. Hacktivists is written by Ben Ockrent, whose slightly wacky but socially relevant play Breeders I had seen at St James Theatre last year. Hacktivists is less surreal, but does have a fair selection of what some people would call odd. Myself of the other hand would very much be home with them. So we are presented with thirteen nerdy "friends" who meet to hack, very much in what is termed the white hat variety. This being for good, as we join them they appear to have done very little more than hacked and created some LED light device. Crashing in to spoil the party however comes Beth (Emma-Ann Cranston)