The Woman in Black, Blackpool Grand Theatre
I'd heard about all about the Woman in Black. The Evening Standard warned it was “guaranteed to chill the blood.” The Daily Telegraph declared it “the most brilliantly effective spine-chiller you will ever encounter". Perhaps more impressively, a teenage rugby player my son knows recommended it as terrifying and full of jump scares.

I was therefore intrigued to find out what makes Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation of Susan Hill’s novel such a scary success. Capturing the imagination of young theatregoers without special effects and gore is no mean feat.

I was also keen to see the ‘leading lady’ herself. Would she be an invisible presence that’s merely alluded to, or actually appear?

The play is set in an empty Victorian theatre, so the Blackpool Grand gives the production’s chill factor a head start. The Grade II listed building is 125 years old and there have been reports of resident spirits, including a Victorian man called Charlie who’s said to haunt the Upper Circle after throwing himself off it, heartbroken over his unrequited love for a ballerina.

Woman in Black is a production where suspension of disbelief is vital. If you’re prepared to let yourself become immersed in the tale, under Robin Herford’s clever direction and with captivating performances from a cast of just two, you will undoubtedly be drawn in and on to the edge of your seat.

For the stage version, the novel’s plot is retold as a play within a play. The elderly Arthur Kipps (Robert Goodale) believes he and his family were cursed by the spirit of The Woman in Black when he was a junior lawyer. He hopes to escape her deadly clutches by telling his story and asks a young actor (Daniel Easton) to help him. However the actor is extremely critical of Kipps’ performance as himself, and so takes over the role of young Kipps, with the real Kipps playing the other parts whilst also narrating.

The story begins slowly, with comedic stops and starts as Kipps begins to (badly) read his manuscript, his lack of projection making us sit further forward. After the young actor steps in, things trundle along more quickly as he jumps on a train to the North East Coast to attend the funeral of Alice Drablow, a reclusive widow. From the remote town of Crythin Gifford, Kipps must travel on to the desolate Eel Marsh House, whose location is only reachable when the tide is out, and then only by horse and carriage along a causeway through the marshes.

The set is bleak but as smoothly adaptable as Goodale is to the various characters he blends in and out of. A giant wicker box serves as a train seat, a table and a bed. We can just about see furniture draped in sheets through a gauze curtain at the back. The sound effects heighten tension – and at points scare us out of our wits – using all the hallmarks of a hair-raising ghost story…the eery tinkling of a musical box, the creaking of a rocking chair, a voice echoing out of nowhere… 

And of course a locked door that holds the key to the past. 

If you don’t know the story’s ending you’re in for a shock as well as few jolts out of your seat. Do we actually see the Woman in Black herself? Find out for yourself, if you dare… 

Now entering its 30th year on the West End, The Woman in Black has opened its 2019 UK Tour in Blackpool where it stays until Saturday: www.blackpoolgrand.co.uk/event/the-woman-in-black

Further tour dates and locations are here: www.thewomaninblack.com/ticket-info/uk-tour