By Sarah Downs
The Woman in Black (a Ghost Story in a Pub), playing at the McKittrick Hotel, is classic horror, combining blood curdling screams, creaking doors, and the sound of distant hooves on darkened English moors to tell a ghostly tale which grabs a hold of you from the first moment and doesn’t let go until the last whisper of fog has cleared.
Adapted from the novel by Susan Hill, the narrative follows the memoir of Arthur Kipps, who as a young attorney had been called to an isolated country home to settle the estate of a recently deceased woman. She had lived there in near solitude for nearly 80 years. Needless to say, given that setting, Kipps gets a little more than he bargained for. The house possesses a secret it is only too wiling to share with anyone who dares cross its threshold.
As directed by Robin Herford, The Woman in Black unfolds at a satisfying pace that moves from horror to humor and back again without losing tension. We are indeed in the storyteller’s thrall. Two gifted actors, David Acton as the elder Kipps and Ben Porter as the Actor who eventually becomes Kipps as a young man, bring Kipps’ memory to life, in an attempt free himself of the nightmare that has robbed him of sleep for decades.
Porter maintains a near exhaustingly high level of energy as the doomed younger Kipps, alternately telling his story and living the drama, with an ever increasing sense of panic. Acton, no longer the buttoned up elder Kipps, pulls an assortment of diverse, dramatic, three-dimensional characters from his back pocket in an astonishing series of transformations. Both actors ground their performances in truth, which gives free rein to our imagination.
Played out on a simple set of curtains bracketed by wall-papered doors that take us immediately to early 20th century England, the gothic tale unfolds. Patches of deep fog, sudden darkness, candle light and other eerie lighting effects amplify the tension.
Susan Hill’s writing reads like the best gothic horror. It’s Rebecca meets the Curse of the Telltale Heart. What lies beyond? What lies beneath? What lies in wait? You’ll have to go to the McKittrick Hotel to find out. The only negative is that the chairs are not too comfortable. Then again, you’ll spend so much time on the edge of your seat you won’t even notice.
It’s time to get your gothic on.
The Woman in Black, adapted by Stephen Mallatratt from the novel by Susan Hill. With Ben Porter and David Acton. Directed by Robin Herford; set design by Michael Holt; lighting design by Anshuman Bhatia; and sound design by Rod Mead and Sebastian Frost.