Victoria and I are self-proclaimed wimps when it comes to all things scary, and by all things scary I mean Scary Movie. So it only seemed fitting that we would eagerly go and see The Woman in Black at Curve Theatre in Leicester, a play that has been described as ‘a gripping theatrical exploration of terror’ (Curve).
Hmm, I don’t think we really thought that through properly! But as Victoria said as the lights went down: “It’s only theatre, what is scary about that?

Before we knew how scary it was!

Oh, how naive we were. Five minutes into the show we jumped out of our skin as the lead, Matthew Connor, entered from the audience onto stage. Cowering in our seats we nervously looked at each other and gripped onto each other’s sweaty hands. After this initial shock, our muscles started to unclench. The opening scenes of the play lure you into a false sense of security with little comedic adlibs and no sign of the Woman in Black, I started to think ‘pfft what is all the fuss about?’

The theatre adaptation of the novel, The Woman in Black, is set as a play within a play. The lead character, Arthur Kipps (Malcolm James) has gone to a local theatre company to tell his story in order feel a sense of cleansing from his terrible ordeal. The play cleverly flits between being a play and not, if that makes sense. It was this that made the line between what was real and imagery blurred—making it all the spookier.

Of course, I was just getting comfortable in my seat when the Woman in Black finally did emerge. Dressed top-to-toe in black with her face covered, she glided through the audience which resulted in the reaction of Victoria clenching my thigh and me nearly kneeing myself in the face. From that point on, I slumped lower and lower into my seat as I was sure that she was going to come and whisk me away.

Having read the book, I knew the second half would be a lot creepier, so I felt a gin and tonic was in order at the interval to calm my poor nerves. The play immediately became more intense with Arthur Kipps staying the night at the haunted house. ‘WHY!!!’ I hear you cry. Because he is a fool who has clearly never heard of ghost stories. That’s why. As night crept in, the theatre lights dimmed and once again Victoria and I were grasping onto each other for dear life.

Then it happened. The moment I had been warned about. The eerie noise of the rocking chair started and of course Kipps went upstairs, instead of running out of the house like any sane person! He then of course opened the door to the room where the rocking noise was coming from to reveal the rocking chair moving by itself. Game over. Done. See you later. My poor nerves could not take it anymore.

The play continued in this tone (leaving me slumped in my seat out of fear), and when it ended with the two actors coming out of character I had almost forgotten that they were performing Kipps’ tale. The actor turned to Kipps and congratulated him on getting an actress to play the Woman in Black to which Kipps replied that he not employed anyone… blackout.

Aaaand after.

Despite thinking that I was going to pass out from fear throughout, this adaptation captured the frightening tone of the book, something that in my opinion the film fails to do. Both Malcolm James and Matt Connor’s performances were spine-tinglingly good; they had me hooked from start to finish. Both captured the fear of Arthur Kipps, in turn welcoming the audience to be sucked into this haunting world.
– Eleanor Woulfe

TheWomaninBlack-L-R Malcolm James; Matt Connor - Photo Credit Tristram Kenton

The other side:

I had a bad experience with the novel The Woman in Black in first year.

I was asked to read the novel for one of my English literature courses, and was immediately put off by the title. The Woman in Black? It sounds like the title of a ghost story you used to tell at sleepovers when you were child. And seriously, how could a book possibly creep you out?

I was reading the novel on my bed in my small flat, about 11 o’clock at night. There was a bulb above by head which constituted as the nightlight; the rest of my room was dark.

Suddenly I felt myself tense…Mr Kipps was stumbling towards the nursery where the rocking chair was ominously moving… he reaches for the handle, and bam! The bulb above my head burst and shattered, and my room was plunged into complete and utter darkness. Silence.

Unknown to me, the entirety of Newarke Point had suffered a major power cut. Yet, I was left alone in my room sweating profusely, with the honest belief that the Woman in Black was the cause the sudden shattering of my lightbulb and the pitch black darkness that suddenly engulfed me. I was glued to my bed in fear, and so like a small child I nervously shouted into the darkness for my flat mates to come and save me. They soon arrived with the torches on their phones, laughing as the guided a nervous me out of the bedroom and into the communal kitchen area.

When we were asked to go see The Woman in Black this occurrence with the book seemed like a distant, but still relatively disturbing memory. But like before, I comforted myself by saying: ‘It’s only the theatre, how bad can this be?

How could I make the same mistake for the second time running?

It was until about 2 minutes in that I realised that my seat on the edge of the isle was the prime spot for the characters on stage to emerge from the audience. The two men of the piece, Arthur Kipps and the man known as simply ‘The Actor’ were already on stage- there was one vital person missing from this performance.

I started to do quick glances over my shoulder, preparing myself for her immergence from behind me. Then all of a sudden I felt a light breeze brush my hair, and glided silently past me was the Woman in Black herself. Her footsteps were silent as she slowly made her way towards the stage, her black rag-like gown flowing behind her. The effect was so simple, yet the breeze of her passing on my cheek was enough to send goose-bumps across my entire body.

The immergence of the Woman in Black ran a similar suit throughout, always cleverly positioned, fading in and out of the background, her face smiling with a creepy satisfaction.

I had little faith in this tale of the supernatural being reproduced on stage. With so many technological effects, fake blood and camera angles needed in our horror movies today which can sometimes do nothing more than make you flinch, I was unsure as to how the theatre could begin to provide that same sense of fright.

I realised that the difference between watching a film and watching a play is the viewer’s distance from the horror. In the Curve I was right in the action, spending the first 10 minutes constantly glancing over my shoulder in case the Woman in Black was right behind me, emerged in the fear of the actors, without any knowledge as to where she would appear from next.

That close distance the audience is to the apparition of a vengeful dead woman was enough to have me Eleanor gripping each-other’s sweating palms throughout the entirety of the show.

– Victoria Cox


PW Productions are touring The Woman in Black and dates can be found here