The Woman in Black at Fortune Theatre
There is something to be said for a play that makes the viewer feel like it never ended – like they’re still living the story after walking out the side exit of the Fortune Theatre.
The Woman in Black wrestles together comedy and horror, with shrieks of fear turning into hoots of laughter throughout the show. It starts with a shy, old solicitor taking public speaking lessons from an actor. Arthur Kipps has been traumatised by a horrific event in his life and wishes to get it off his chest by droning an entire manuscript to his unsuspecting extended family.
The first half consists of the very determined acting coach coaxing the protagonist out of his shell and setting up the play like a rehearsal. The unnamed coach takes on the role of young Kipps, while the latter takes on all supporting characters. After a slow and halting first half, interruptions to the pair’s meta performance become scarce and the audience is drawn into the tale.
The plotline itself consists of a perfectly run-of-the-mill haunted house ghost story. No mysteries there – a batch of old letters explains the origins of the woman with the wasted face who terrorises the market town by Eel Marsh House where a widow has recently been laid to rest. But Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation is a play on theatre itself, as the unnamed actor calls upon spectators’ imagination with minimal use of props and maximal use of sound effects. These were excessively intense at times, wrenching goosebumps out of the audience when the actors’ work would have done the trick.
And that it did, with Max Hutchinson’s stellar performance as an actor playing the young Kipps. His interpretation of the little dog that accompanied him to the haunted ground truly stood out. Hearts were riveted when sprightly little Spider bolted into the marshes and nearly drowned… though the dog only existed through the actor’s endearing interactions with it.
Terence Wilton, meanwhile, morphed effortlessly into a number of characters, affecting accents such as an exceptionally convincing Northern drawl and at times narrating darkly from the wings. His performance, though far more subtle than Hutchinson’s, displayed undeniable skill.
The producer of the show came up onstage after the final, horrifying twist to make a toast to the power of imagination, and pay homage to the Fortune Theatre’s first night open this year since the restrictions eased. The Woman in Black is a masterclass in theatricality, a poignant play to resume with and to remind us all of the timeless value of art.
The Woman in Black is at Fortune Theatre from 7th September until 2nd April 2022. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.