If you have never seen The Woman in Black prepare to be really spooked at Neptune Theatre. When the sun rises the next day, you’ll be grateful for the light.
The two-hour play including intermission is an excellent, old-fashioned, ghost story with a bone-chilling ending. Though I’ve seen it twice before – at Antigonish and in the 2012 film starring Daniel Radcliffe – I still jumped during this production.
Two actors, Gordon Patrick White and Gil Anderson, working with director Jeremy Webb, conjure an unforgettable story out of words and props, assisted by Garrett G. Barker’s superb lighting design.
Part of the magic of The Woman in Black, by Stephen Mallatratt as adapted from Susan Hill’s 1983 gothic novel, is the theatrical concept of a play-within-a-play. The senior Arthur Kipps has hired a young actor to help him purge a terrible experience from his youth.
As a young lawyer he was sent to Eel Marsh House to settle the estate of Mrs. Drablow, who lived alone on an island connected by a causeway only passable at low tide. When he gets to the nearby village, few will talk about Mrs. Drablow or agree to help him, so fearful are they.
As the actor (Gil Anderson) incarnates the young Kipps, the older Kipps (White) plays the colourful, side characters and the two create a world of trains, horses and carriages and a haunted house by moving around and animating basic props. For example an empty window frame hung on a coat rack becomes an office window.
Mallatratt wanted to create a “neverland” more than a realistic time and place, though the time period seems to be late 19th/early 20th century. “The intent of the show is to frighten,” he says in the program notes. “The fear is not on a visual or visceral level, but an imaginative one. Darkness is a powerful ally of terror ….”
Both actors are excellent and make their hard work look easy, Gil Anderson, at first jaunty and confident as the hired know-it-all actor, becomes more and more human and vulnerable as she incarnates a man slowly unravelling. White plays the very serious older Kipps and multiple roles with an entertaining and convincing variation in voice and gesture. Movement is key to both actors’ performances and to the energy of this production
Webb, who also did the set design, nearly, temporarily derails his fine, well-paced production with Kipps’s feverish nightmare near the end. It borders on the histrionic whereas the ghost has been expertly rendered as a glimpsed figure in the shadows.
Barker’s lighting design is subtle, adaptable and imaginative. It ranges from the chilly murk of fog to the delicacy of soft incandescent light on Arthur’s white shirt to the cold, white brilliance of theatre lights illuminating the entire bare-walled black box of Neptune’s stage.
Also key are Joe Micallef’s sound design. The creative team includes stage manager Christine Oakey, stage hand Evan Brown, movement coach Gina Thornhill, head of wardrobe Helena Marriott and technical director Shawn Bisson. The show contains haze, flashing and pulsing lights.
The Woman in Black is the second longest running production in London’s West End, where it has played since 1989. It runs at Neptune Theatre to Nov. 14. https://www.neptunetheatre.com/
Coming up for the Christmas season are: Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, with Rhys Bevan-John and Simon Henderson, Nov. 23 – Dec. 26, and Alice in Pantoland, a family musical comedy, written and directed by Webb, Nov. 23 – Jan. 9.
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