Mention the words ‘Woman In Black’ to anyone nowadays and you’ll no doubt be met with a shiver and a shriek, as they recall the terrifying tale.
Thanks to Daniel Radcliffe’s turn in the movie version of Susan Hill’s horror story, the Woman has never had such an (albiet frightened) fanbase.
Now the original play is on tour again, after a hugely successful 25 years on the stage of a supposedly haunted theatre in the West End.
Revisiting the theatre show after seeing the film was interesting as it makes you realise just how different the two are.
Those who haven’t seen the show before and expect a stage-version of Radcliffe’s efforts will be surprised, though certainly not disappointed.
The only thing the film and show seem to share are the names of a few characters, the setting, and a basic concept of the story.
Antony Eden, who plays The Actor in the show, said: “Susan Hill is the queen of the horror story, and I really enjoyed the original novel. I am a sucker for horror films and I loved the film too, but it was a really different story from the play. They changed it to such an extent and it just didn’t make sense to me – when you’ve got a novel that’s sold millions and a play that’s been so successful on the West End for years, why would you change it? Then again I don’t know much about film, and perhaps the play wouldn’t have worked so well as a film. I have to admit it certainly was scary – when the light is shining on the eyes of all the china dolls in the nursery – ah, just great!”
The play in which Eden stars relies less on movie-style special effects and more on the audience’s imagination, which you could argue is even more powerful.
As Eden says himself: “The play requires the audience to use their imaginations, so every person that watches it is visiting a dark place inside their own mind. It depends on what their own minds are conjuring up as to how scared they will be.”
For a self-confessed horror fanatic whose first performance was in a school version of The Woman In Black, the role of The Actor in the touring production is perfect for Eden.
He said: “I first saw Woman In Black when I was about 14 or 15, and it blew me away. I knew I had to perform it, so I asked the school if I could do it, and that was the first play I ever put on.
“This is my favourite horror film or play, because it’s not just a horror story. It’s almost a ‘whodunnit’ - there’s elements of mystery, tragedy, and even some humour. The first ten minutes or so audiences tend to think they’ve come to a comedy, but that can lure you into a false sense of security.“
Indeed, there were people whispering in confusion at the beginning of the show on Monday night. Even though I’ve seen the play twice before I was taken in by some of what happened, wondering if something had gone wrong, but of course, it was all part of the performance.
Without giving too much away, The Woman In Black is about a young solicitor who is sent to sort through the papers of a deceased client, at her spooky old house in a far-flung part of the country.
The remote house is accessible only by a causeway – if you’ve ever visited Lindisfarne in Northumberland you’ll easily be able to picture the bleak, misty setting of the lonely place cut off from the mainland.
The Woman In Black is a play within a play, and cleverly blurs the lines of reality so even when the curtain falls at the end of the show you’re not entirely sure what you’ve witnessed, or indeed, if the curse is now upon you too...
Eden is one of only two cast members, the other being Julian Forsyth who plays Arthur Kipps. Both have performed in the West End production of the show.
Eden said: “Robin Herford (the director) is awesome. He reinvents the show every time, so every production is a slighty different version. Working with Julian is great, we have a lot of fun with it. Each show can be a different length, because we kind of go with the feeling of the audience and see where it takes us. There’s only two of us and that’s one of the things I really love about the play. It’s so simplistic, so stripped down and completely unpretentious, yet it makes such an impact.”
Eden admits he does enjoy scaring people.
He said: “You get school kids in that go mental, and then we have to try and harness their excitement, whereas adults might be a little more cynical and we have to build them up a lot more. There have been things which have scared me while I’ve been performing. In a recent show, it was the build up to the big climax and things were getting really tense. Suddenly a group of girls at the back started screaming. I don’t know why they were screaming at that point, I couldn’t work it out. I still don’t know and that really freaked me out.”
For fans of the show it’s a chance to return to its terrifying roots and relive the fear, and for those who have never seen it before, you are in for a treat.
Also at Milton Keynes Theatre from April 8 - 13. To book tickets visit http://www.atgtickets.com/venues/milton-keynes-theatre/
by Connie Primmer