In the dimly lit auditorium of Nottingham’s Theatre Royal, I recently found myself immersed in the spine-tingling world of “The Woman in Black,” a ghostly tale that unfolds with haunting brilliance on the stage. Susan Hill’s acclaimed story, brought to life by Stephen Mallatratt’s ingenious adaptation, is a captivating journey into the supernatural. The narrative follows a lawyer, played with remarkable depth by the returning Malcolm James, consumed by an ominous curse believed to be cast by the specter of a Woman in Black. Desperate to exorcise the fear that grips his soul, he enlists the help of a skeptical young actor, portrayed by the talented Mark Hawkins, to unravel his terrifying story. What begins innocently soon spirals into a chilling exploration of darkest memories, leading the characters into a world of eerie marshes and moaning winds.
Robin Herford’s direction is the guiding force behind this production’s success, skillfully orchestrating an atmosphere that oscillates between suspenseful anticipation and controlled horror. The chemistry between Malcolm James as Arthur Kipps and Mark Hawkins as The Actor is palpable, creating a dynamic interplay that keeps the audience on the edge of their seats. James’s portrayal is a masterclass in conveying the depths of fear, while Hawkins adds layers of complexity to the narrative with his compelling stage presence.
As I sat amidst the captivated audience, it became evident that the enduring power of “The Woman in Black” lies in its ability to evoke genuine fear, even after more than three decades in the spotlight. The screams of fright that echoed through the theatre were not only a testament to the expertly crafted suspense on stage but also a tribute to the timelessness of a narrative that continues to resonate with audiences. It’s a rare and exhilarating experience to witness a show over 30 years old still possess the capacity to send shivers down the spine and elicit audible gasps from a contemporary audience.
Michael Holt’s set design is nothing short of a visual marvel. From the hauntingly realistic depiction of marshes to the evocative play of shadows, Holt’s attention to detail transports the audience into the heart of the chilling tale. The seamless integration of set elements enhances the overall immersive experience, making the supernatural elements of the story feel tangibly real.
Complementing Holt’s design is Kevin Sleep’s masterful lighting, which acts as a silent storyteller, guiding the audience through the narrative’s twists and turns. Sleep’s strategic use of light and shadow adds an extra layer of suspense, heightening the emotional impact of key moments and accentuating the eerie ambiance of the production.
“The Woman in Black” has rightfully earned its place as a theatrical phenomenon, having played over 13,000 performances in the West End and captivating over 7 million audiences across the UK. The touring production, with its stellar cast and the creative vision of the production team, is a testament to the enduring appeal of this ghostly masterpiece. For anyone seeking a theatrically exquisite and emotionally resonant experience, “The Woman in Black” at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal is a haunting triumph that will linger in your thoughts long after the final curtain falls. This is a night of theatre that transcends the ordinary, delivering a truly unforgettable encounter with the supernatural.
The Woman in Black plays at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal until 2nd December 2023, where it will continue its tour. Tickets available here.
Photos throughout from Mark Douet.