The Woman In Black: Review by Chasing Esme

The Torch Theatre, Milford Haven.

The Torch Theatre, Milford Haven.

I was invited by The Torch Theatre to review their latest production, The Woman In Black on Wednesday, October 5.

I arrived at The Torch Theatre with Lynne in tow, and once we had collected our tickets, headed staight for the bar (naturally). After purchasing our wine and saying a quick hello to all of the familiar faces, we took our seats in the auditorium.

After 25 years in the West End, watched by 7 million people and still running, the ‘world’s most terrifying stage play’ has come to the Torch, and Lynne and I were among the first people to watch the Pembrokeshire edition, brought to us by the same team who chilled Pembrokeshire spines with The Turn of the Screw in 2014.

The synopsis of the play reveals: “The tale begins on Christmas Eve, when Arthur’s step-children invite him to tell a ghost story. Arthur is too disturbed by his memories to share his story aloud, so he writes it down.
In his story, a young Arthur Kipps, a junior solicitor, is sent to settle the affairs of Alice Drablow. He sees a woman dressed in black at her funeral, though apparently no one else does.

At Eel Marsh House, a house beyond a causeway, Arthur is haunted by noises and sightings of the woman. When local man, Sam Daily, reveals the full story of how Alice Drablow’s sister, Jennet, haunts the house and that a child dies each time the woman in black is seen, it’s only a matter of time before Arthur sees her again with dramatic consequences.”

The stage looked inviting, and had a definite eerie feel to it having been left almost bare. The backdrop, painted with dark, brooding clouds gave the impression for stormy weather, and the set, filled with just the odd stool, a large basket and a coat rail lined the stage.

I noticed that there were windows, and prepared myself for the jumps I believed I would inevitably experience throughout the play.

However, once the play started, I was surprised to find it wasn’t what I was expecting.

I don’t quite know what I was expecting, but I wasn’t expecting a play within a play. But, after thinking about it, I don’t know how else it would work. It was a wonderful way to explain parts of the performance which might not have been picked up very well had they not been explained initially; for example, the reason the actors speak to an invisible dog (it’s not as silly as it sounds).

play-within-a-play-2

However, I don’t think they needed to be explained in such depth and detail. I don’t find myself to be a simpleton, so just the one explanation of the play within a play setting was enough for me. I felt that there was too much time spent on the same subject, and being reminded that the two characters were just acting and remembering lines was a bit too much for me.

I felt that because of the frequent reminders, I couldn’t settle into the performance properly, and I couldn’t lose myself in the dialogue and the excellent acting skills. Their lines spoke of how as a performer, you don’t want your audience to get bored. I did find this a little ironic.

I think I was expecting to see a thriller on stage (not the dance) – maybe this is unrealistic of me, but I didn’t jump once. I did find that my mind wandered from time to time throughout the first half, but it wasn’t for long – just a few moments here and there.

Lynne however, who said she is normally checking Facebook, watching a bit of television then reverting back to checking emails and playing candy crush in the evening, found it a wonderful way to lose herself and have her attention held by something for an hour at a time.

Once the play started to pick up some pace, I began to hang on their every word. The projections onto the backdrop were spectacular, and I was impressed by their vividness. By keeping the stage clear of clutter and having a very small cast, the stage became versatile, which made the viewing of the performance feel very refreshing.

woman-in-black-church

There were a few mistakes, but on the opening night that is to be expected. And sometimes, performing to a bunch of people who are from the press is the most difficult, because you know they’ll be judging you.

The Woman In Black looked exactly how I expected her to look, and I was delighted to see her in all her terrifying glory.

When she appeared, a scream would blast through the audience (I’m not sure if it was every time or not), making the hairs on the back of people’s necks stand on end. However, mine didn’t. It didn’t give me goosebumps or make me feel uneasy, because it didn’t sound like a real, genuine scream.

However, when skilled actor, Rhys Meredith, playing young Arthur Kipps let out a scream of fear, goosebumps emanated all over my body. He sounded genuinely terrified, and I couldn’t help but admire the amount of emotion he put into the role.

Having read this far, it may sound as though I didn’t enjoy it. Believe it or not, I did – especially the second act. I was able to immerse myself in the story and listen attentively to the dialogue, watching the two actors work together to tell the terrifying story, without being reminded once again that we were watching a play within a play.

play-within-a-play

I couldn’t help but admire the versatility of Ioan Hefin, playing present-day Arthur Kipps (and many others!), who was successfully made “an Irving,” whether he wanted to be one or not. He played a numerous amount of people and did so at ease, and I could easily forget that it was the same person playing different characters, because I believed every single one.

I expected to see more of The Woman In Black, and I expected her to make us jump more often. I still thoroughly enjoyed the performance, and maybe if you’re reading my review before you’re going to watch it, you’ll find I’m being a little harsh.

I genuinely enjoyed the performance and had a good evening, but I wasn’t on the edge of my seat.


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