‘The Woman in Black’ Review

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh – until 16 October 2021

Reviewed by James Knight.



It’s really good.  

Based on Susan Hill’s book of the same name, the story has been adapted many times over the years, but theatre removes the barriers that can sometimes impede horror. You can put down the book, you can switch off the TV. In a theatre however, the threat of the Woman in Black cannot leave you. 

So that’s one reason why the play has lasted so long, why else? Well, the cast is superb and at the top of their game. Past productions have starred Martin Freeman and Joseph Fiennes, and the UK tour is no exception. Both Robert Goodale as Arthur Kipps and Antony Eden as the Actor draw the audience in this unnerving tale, simultaneously creating two worlds without effort: Arthur Kipps’ story of his encounter with the Woman in Black in the past, and his present-day efforts to ‘exorcise’ his trauma by sharing it with others. The premise of these two worlds is simple: Kipps, now an old man, is determined to ‘exorcise’ his past and has written down his bone-chilling tale in order to share with his family. He has hired the Actor to help him deliver his story, to bring some much-needed life into what would otherwise be five hours of an old man droning through a manuscript. The Actor, keen to do his best for this traumatised gentleman, slowly encourages Kipps to enliven his delivery, making way to a full performance. After a few edits and directorial notes, the Actor plays a young Kipps, while the man himself takes on the roles of everyone he met in the haunted town of Crythin Gifford. 

It’s a plot point that many in the audience I suspect were not prepared for, especially if they came expecting a re-telling of the film version with Daniel Radcliffe. But the purpose of this first half hour of story-telling is clear – we see these two men, one weary and frail, the other energetic and enthused, come together, bond, and we see the care the Actor has for the older Kipps, even if the odd moment of theatrical ambition shines through. This is an extravagant therapy session for Kipps, and the Actor is determined to see it through. By the time all this set-up is complete, the true ghost story begins. 

Sound gradually creeps in, enveloping us in the world of Crythin Grifford and the vendetta of the Woman. Jump-scares are rare in this production. Instead, the long, slow, dread of what might happen creeps into your mind, making the fear that much worse. Towards the end of the first act, the stage is overwhelmed in sea-mist, and all sight is obliterated. What is in the mist? What might we see when the fog clears? Some effects might have been lost in the transition to a touring production, but that does not lessen the tense atmosphere that both actors create onstage. 

Both actors weave the tale before us magnificently, with empathy, fear, and just the right touch of humour – just enough to make you settle into your seat and lull you into a false sense of security, before the Woman in Black emerges from the shadows once again. 

The Woman in Black’ is a tense, nerve-wracking horror, which will have you jumping at shadows the whole way home.