Nerve-Fraying Fun at Grand Theatre Blackpool!
Last night, we went to go and see The Woman in Black at Grand Theatre Blackpool and loved it.
Two things to know as you read:
We’re intentionally leaving the juiciest details out – we hate spoilers and want you to appreciate the full horror of it all!
The entire play is performed by two actors. Subject of the story, Arthur, enlists the help of an actor in an attempt to perform the story to family and friends in order to lift the burden of the tale that has weighed so heavily on him all these years. As a result, this production is a play-within a play, with “The Actor” playing Arthur, and Arthur acting out all the people he came into contact with.
The play is based on a 1983 horror novel by Susan Hill of the same name. It is traditional horror at its finest that fans of Hitchcock’s Rebecca, The Turn of The Screw and Hammer Horror will lap up.
Stephen Mallatratt’s version of the play is the second longest-running play in the history of the West End, after The Mousetrap. This comes as no surprise as the production is masterfully engineered. The play remains exceptionally popular – particularly, it seems, with typically hard-to-please teens. It was so encouraging to see so many young people enjoying a night of drama (undoubtedly aided by the release of the 2012 film adaptation), which is testament to its appeal and potency, not of graphic violence or overdone effects, but by harnessing the power of your imagination. This intense thriller uses a minimalistic set, which proves that you don’t need colossal stages and vast spectacle to terrorise.
As Arthur and The Actor rehearse, their staging itself falls prey to supernatural happenings, exploited to their fullest by the peculiarly spooky atmosphere. As an audience, this made us feel like spectral voyeurs. Having the play intended to be set in the theatre you’re sat in allowed for a fully-immersive experience.
The thing we loved the most about the production was the legion of clever ways the play managed to captivate you, as this play heavily relies on the audience’s imagination. As director Robin Herford said:
"[The actor] may only adopt a different voice or physical bearing, or perhaps put on a different coat, and yet the audience will immediately accept him as that character because they have been made complicit with the convention, and thus believe him totally. If two minutes later, he tells us he is someone else, we believe that too. It’s the same with location; the inventive use of lights and sound effects and minimal props can transport us from place to place in seconds. A wicker basket can become a solicitor’s desk, a railway carriage, an altar, a pony and trap or a bed in seconds, thereby obviating the need for disruptive scene changes.”
Because of how the story is being told, we don’t need to work very hard. Rather than the jarring realisation that the judge is playing the milkman, as in so many other productions, we know that Arthur is merely imitating people from his past; we don’t need to guess at who is now supposed to be onstage. This allowed for authenticity, unrestricted by the limitation of a small cast or stage.
The chills truly are irresistible; swirling fog, locked doors illuminated with a wicked orange light, a pale visage looming out of the gloom etc. The staging is perhaps a little aged, but for us, this wasn’t a negative at all. With the exception of a graveyard portrayed merely by sheet-covered furniture (which struggled to convince me as I didn’t know what I was meant to be looking at in the first act), the staging is simple because it’s all that’s required; some fog and the shadowy projection of the wretched Eel Marsh House are more than sufficient to have you picturing the rest.
For example, there’s a scene where a little dog (her presence was mimed rather than using a real pooch) has jumped into the marshes, and the two men lean over the edge of the stage to try and find her. Despite there being no dog nor no marsh, all the people I could see in the stalls leaned forward along with the men to look anyway, as the imagery the play conjures is so convincing!
It’s a scary play, so if you truly are hopeless with horror, perhaps give the movie trailer a glance before committing yourself. It’s not so terrifying that you’ll be sat for two hours with your eyes shut (although a young lady sat in front of us did her best), but the jump-scares and suspense are satisfying and numerous, proving that even in 2019, the play can still cast its delicious, menacing spell.
This play is about theatre, and passionately celebrates all that theatre can achieve, not just in its spectacular live performance, but in theatrical magic from lighting and sound to sets and the best use of the most evocative setting of all – an empty theatre. The experience was one of our favourite theatre visits in memory, and we cannot recommend it enough.
The show runs until Saturday evening at Grand Theatre Blackpool, with standard tickets from just £24.00. Take a look and book here.