Woman in Black, Darlington Civic Theatre – Review by NCTJ Journalism student Amy Holmes.

In News, on the 20th, January 2015

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'I did not believe in ghosts'

It’s 1950. Arthur Kipps (Malcolm James), a weathered and worn-out ex-solicitor, is set to perform a self-written ghost story – the truth about what happened at Eel Marsh House all those years ago. Together with an actor (Matt Connor) he shares his terrifying story. But as the ‘play’ goes on, the lines between theatre and fairytale begin to mingle, and the eponymous woman in black creeps solemnly through the halls, both the actors and the audience are asked – do you believe in ghosts?

Stephen Mallatratt’s chilling adaptation of Susan Hill’s famous book is a slow-burner, lulling its audience into a false sense of security before blasting them with spine-tingling screams and dramatic sound and lighting effects.

As the only actors in the two-hour play, Malcolm James and Matt Connor deserve a standing ovation simply for the mountain of lines they each had to learn.

James, who plays not only the elderly Kipps but almost every other character in the play, flows expertly from role to role, demonstrating an impressive range and an even more impressive Yorkshire accent. His blink-and-you’ll-miss-it transformations, from bumbling gentleman to gruff horse-driver to heartbroken father, did not go unappreciated by the audience – whom he convinced, in a rare comedic scene, that he could not act at all. Meanwhile, Connor’s enthusiastic portrayal of a young actor causes a great deal of nail biting, as genre-savvy audiences pinpoint his naive scepticism.

They bear stoically through the audience’s screams, their subsequent laughter at their own jumping heart – and at one point, what seemed to be two thirds of the audience contracting a sudden, brief case of whooping cough for ten minutes.

The Woman In Black is a gripping, psychological thriller, with a keen eye for detail giving the centuries-old Gothic stereotypes a firm modern-day foothold. Every spotlight is measured; audiences are left on the edge of their seats waiting for that next blood-curdling shriek. It is not the danger, but the anticipation of it, that strikes fear into them – and it is in this respect that The Woman in Black triumphs most of all.

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