The Woman in Black, Shakespeare Theatre

It's been said that Hamlet is really a ghost story (either that or the world's longest knock-knock joke, as it begins with a shout of "Who's there?" in the night). A sad tale may be best for winter, but Mamilius' story in The Winter's Tale is also one of churchyards, sprites, and goblins. And with the numerous ghosts that populate Richard III and Glendower's claims of communing with spirits in 1 Henry IV, Stephen Mallatratt's adaptation of Susan Hill's The Woman in Black, directed by Robin Herford, is a surprisingly good fit for the Shakespeare Theatre Company.

Photo of Daniel Easton as The Actor by Tristram Kenton.

Herford's production has been running in the West End for 30 years, and judging by the response of the audience at the Lansburgh Theatre, probably still scaring the pants of plenty of folks. Hill's novel of vengeful ghosts and the marshy manors they haunt is given a wonderfully insightful and theatrical adaptation by Mallatratt, one that revels in the nature of what a theatrical adaptation can accomplish and what it means to pull a story out of a book and onto a stage in the first place. The actors, Daniel Easton and Robert Goodale, do excellent work leading each other through the story, effectively dramatized in Michael Holt's design of a worn down theatre.

For all that I left the theatre unsettled and still riding some of the adrenaline of a good jump scare (exactly as the creators wanted me to), I also found myself cheered by the audacity of what a scary story actually is in a theatre. Instead of the perfectly controlled illusions of film or television, when actors are frightening an audience from the stage, you can't lose track of the simplicity of how they are managing it. When an actor suddenly swoops in out of the shadows and makes you jump, you know it's just a person--they're right there in front of you, after all--but the strength of the actors' conviction that she may be more is what makes it all work so magnificently. If Oberon can say "Now I am invisible" and make it work, we can all let ourselves enjoy the good ghost story that The Woman in Black provides, and the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Future can make room for one more at the theatrical table this holiday season.


Popular Posts