Even without the interest created by the 2012 film adaptation with Daniel Radcliffe and its distinctly patchy sequel, The Woman In Black retains an impressive capacity to chill and compel. As the wretched protagonist Arthur Kipps notes, ghost stories are a cosy Christmas tradition. Unfortunately, his tale is considerably more psychologically unsettling than a typical Victorian bloodcurdler, with Stephen Mallatratt’s long-running adaptation of Susan Hill’s uncanny gothic novella ideal for these dark days of January, eliciting genuine screams from the stalls.
King’s Theatre, Glasgow ***
Focusing on a young solicitor, driven out of his wits with terror in a desolate old house as he tries to put a late widow’s affairs in order, Kipps’ story is given a twist by Mallatrat’s metatheatrical re-framing of the narrative. The older Kipps (David Acton) employs an actor (Matthew Spencer) to unburden himself of his misfortune, evoking a growing sense of contagion upon both the initially blasé performer and the audience, with past, present, life and death blurred in thick, swampy fog and a malevolent twist on bereavement.
The reliance of the production on scares and an escalating feeling of dread makes considerable demands of the actors. Both acquit themselves well, aided by Michael Holt’s simple but creepy design and Robin Herford’s direction, which reinforces the script’s implication of the negative aspects of imagination. Only as intricate as it has to be, the clinically adroit plotting ticks like diabolical clockwork. The Woman In Black remains more than a dusty nostalgia piece and is gripping while it lasts.