Never have I ever heard such a bonkers amount of screams from a single audience. Since regaining my hearing I’ve decided The Woman in Black surrounded by school children who love getting an adrenaline kick from horror is the best way to watch a play such as this.
Susan Hill’s classic scary story was treated to brilliant reactions from a young audience at Cheltenham Everyman this week.
After running for three decades, you’d expect a play of this nature to date and become stale but this horror story ages like a fine wine.
Lighting is the most powerful tool in this play and is utilised well. Shadows and obscured views make your imagination run wild based off the very little you see. Team this with dry ice and a spooky set and you’ve got an unshakeable horror show.
The tale is of two men putting on a play, a play inside a play if you will. The story is funny when it’s meant to be funny and really rather scary when it’s meant to be scary. The jump scares are done well, long silences put you on edge and the tension is laid on thick.
The Woman herself is revealed slowly to begin with but becomes more familiar as the production goes on. The more you saw her the less scary she became and she was much more unnerving when you catch quick glimpses of her in the shadows rather than seeing her jump out onto The Actor (Daniel Easton).
A lot of the show relies on the audience’s imagination to fill in the blanks of the scenery and goings on. This seed is sown by Artur Kipps (Robert Goodale) as he narrates a majority of the second half. His descriptive passages transport you to the marshes, although his stuttering and stumbling over his words often distract from the atmosphere and break the tension.
It is also very dependent on the ability of the audience to engage and let themselves fall into the world where The Woman lives and allow themselves to feel the fear that she instills in the characters.
I’ve seen productions that try to be scary and make you jump, not always achieved through the medium of theatre but Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation does this with ease. I imagine there were a lot of Cheltenham school children checking under their beds and in their wardrobes that night.