Theatre review: The Woman In Black, Edinburgh

BEFORE a confidence trickster can get you to hand over money, they must gain your trust. By persuading you that one thing is true, they need only take a small step to make you believe the improbable.
At the King's Theatre, Edinburgh. Picture: Dan PhillipsAt the King's Theatre, Edinburgh. Picture: Dan Phillips
At the King's Theatre, Edinburgh. Picture: Dan Phillips

The Woman In Black

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh


This is the technique used, to brilliant effect, in Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation of Susan Hill’s novel. Mallatratt presents us with an ordinary man, played by Malcolm James with an embarrassed stoop and a dormouse demeanour, whose attempts to tell his story are so graceless we can only believe he is in earnest.

The more he protests to actor Matt Connor, who offers to tell his story, that what matters is the truth, not stage trickery, the more credible he seems. What we would normally have dismissed as just another ghost story starts sounding like an honest account of the supernatural.

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In Robin Herford’s production, going spookily strong after 25 years, the con trick has an extra level of complexity. We are in a theatre watching a rehearsal of a story being worked out by two men, one of whom says he isn’t even an actor.

To join in this theatrical game, we must believe that one man is “real” and the other man is playing him; that a storage basket is a horse and trap; and that a cast of two can take on the many characters in Hill’s novel. And because we believe all this, we’re only too ready to jump in our seats every time things go bump in the night.

• King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, until today; then at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, 20-25 April

Seen on 14.04.15