Based on the well-known novel by Susan Hill, The Woman in Black finds its niche in telling the story from the viewpoint of an actor.
In an impressive feat, the entire cast consists of only two actors, with the majority of the supporting characters played by Robert Goodale. Goodale does a notable job at distinguishing between the different characters; changing his outfits and body language, although their voices are too similar at times. This creates focus on the The Actor, played by Daniel Easton, whose story-telling creates a tense atmosphere. The clever casting narrows the focus of the play, and removes the distraction of introducing too many characters.
The use of lighting to set the mood, and distinguish between the present day and past events, is masterful. The orange glow of the homely interior scenes feels warm and safe, but the suspense grows as the lights darken to an ominous red. The use of shadows is clearly calculated, allowing the Woman in Black to move freely about the stage – but even when she isn’t there, her silhouette can still be seen. In the shadows of the coat rack, in the shadows of the actors, in the dark corners. The play really utilises, almost weaponises, the audience’s imagination.
The cast were not afraid to ask the audience to use their imagination, so that they could reach beyond the limitations of the stage. And with so few props, it is impressive how creatively they are recycled. A box becomes a desk, a bed, a train carriage, a horse and cart.
Sadly, the play cuts the tension far too early. The Woman in Black is sighted a few times, mysteriously shrouded in shadows and seemingly harmless. But mere minutes later she is fully revealed, and the suspense is ruined. Had the play continued flirting with glimpses of the Woman in Black, rather than revealing her entirety so soon, it would be a lot scarier.
This is a truly thrilling adaptation, and it kept me looking back over my shoulder as I walked home alone. The ending brought the story into the real world, an even more chilling finale than the book as it feels so much more real. The more creative your imagination, the scarier it will be.
Featured Image: Sheffield Theatres.