Review: The Woman in Black at Liverpool Playhouse ****
Two actors, a handful of props, some judiciously deployed lighting and sound effects, and one ghostly apparition.
Stephen Mallatratt’s tense stage adaptation of Susan Hill’s modern take on the classic Victorian gothic horror is a gripping example of lo-fi, high impact storytelling.
Arthur Kipps (Robert Goodale) is an emotionally scarred soul searching for some sort of redemption and peace through the relating of a chilling personal tragedy; Daniel Easton is The Actor he hires to help him tell it.
While Easton’s cheerful and confident Actor shrugs on the role of the younger Kipps, Goodale becomes all the characters the fresh-faced solicitor encounters on his travels to the bleak Eel Marsh House to wrap up the affairs of the late, reclusive Alice Drablow.
But a seemingly routine job soon turns in to a nightmare of creaks, bumps and screams in the night – not forgetting the ominous appearance of the spectral ‘woman in black’ of the title, all accompanied by a damp and cloying fret that rolls in off the sea (and through the auditorium).
Robert Goodale (Mr Kipps) and Daniel Easton (The Actor). Photos by Tristram Kenton
Mallatratt’s play within a play is a neat way of delivering the tale, and while it can be verbally dense at times, overall the storytelling is deliberately spare; the silences and darkness are as important as the dialogue, and the power of suggestion encourages the audience’s imaginations to fill in the gaps.
That audience on the opening night at the Playhouse included large groups of young people who appeared absolutely hooked by and invested in what was unfolding in front of them – a testament to the lasting power of oral tradition and live theatre in this increasingly high-tech, online world.
A shame then that a power surge (or perhaps it was the shadowy Woman in Black?!) in the second half knocked out the lighting and sound at a crucial moment, leading to a brief hiatus which dissipated a little of the terror and tension which had been so carefully constructed.
Hats off to Goodale and Easton (son of the late Liverpool radio host Phil) for picking up the story at full tilt on their return to the stage and bringing it to its disquieting conclusion.