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A spine-chilling tale

Posted: 28th March 2017

Theatre review by Henry Ascoli

The Woman in Black, New Theatre Royal (Portsmouth)

An electric atmosphere, superb illusion and sheer terror combine in this absorbing, spine-chilling tale, widely regarded as a modern classic of the theatre stage...

Recreating Susan Hill’s acclaimed ghost story on stage is no mean feat, yet director Robin Herford has overseen a truly gripping production, which had the New Theatre Royal audience on the edge of their seats throughout.

The action centres around Arthur Kipps, a junior solicitor summoned to the small market town of Crythin Gifford to handle the estate of the late Mrs Alice Drablow, the sole inhabitant of the bleak and foreboding Eel Marsh House.

Within a deserted theatre, an older Kipps, haunted by the terrors of his past, seeks the assistance of a talented young actor to reveal his story in a desperate bid to rid himself of the curse that he has endured for so long. It all begins innocently enough, but then, as they reach further into his darkest memories, they find themselves caught up in a world of eerie marshes and moaning winds…

Much of the success of this production centres around its sheer simplicity - the set and props are stripped back to the bare minimum, and we fast become absorbed in the terrifying tale played out before us.

While the opening exchanges feel somewhat laboured, the performance soon settles into its stride, and it is not long before the first ghostly moment catches us unawares.

During the latter stages, the sense of anticipation is profound, as Kipps is drawn ever deeper into the mire, and we can only wait to discover what horrors are left to unfold…

Matthew Spencer delivers a masterful performance as The Actor, bringing Kipps’ story to life with passion and emotion.

Meanwhile, David Acton produces a superb portrayal as not only the older Kipps, but a whole raft of characters who are interwoven into the story.

This is a production which encapsulates the magic and mystery of the theatre – the harrowing screams of the Woman in Black ringing in our ears as we step back outside, into the night…

Some three decades on from its first appearance on the theatre stage, The Woman in Black has lost none of its impact – truly chilling, yet utterly enthralling.

The Woman in Black runs at New Theatre Royal until 1st April. To book tickets and find out more, call 023 9264 9000 or visit www.newtheatreroyal.com