York Theatre Royal should be applauded by choosing a play for its re-opening that had its origins in North Yorkshire and encourages the audience to use their imagination.

The Woman in Black is adapted from Scarborough born Susan Hill’s novel of the same name and its first performance was at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in her home town in 1987 as part of the theatre’s Christmas season.

A new work was required to bridge a gap in the programme and what better than a ghost story adapted by Stephen Mallatratt from Susan Hill’s  novel – and the rest is history.

Now one of the longest running plays in The West End this play is still a terrifying piece of theatre. The beauty of The Woman in Black is that it doesn’t have plethora of special effects and devices – everything is simplistic and we have to think hard and imagine.

It is played out on an empty stage in an old theatre – there are no specific props or furniture. A skip becomes a pony and trap, a bed, a sofa and a dozen other things whilst shadows are cast on old linen, torn backcloths. Dust sheets festoon the stage apron and the orchestra pit and lamps are strategically placed to add to the mood.

But its the lighting and sound that says it all – shrieks, screams and fearsome shouts are amplified to perfection whilst the lighting captures an the errie mood of  Victoriana period candlelight.

The early moments of the play are rather confusing but once concentration is established and the cogs start to turn it has its audience hanging onto every word.

Ageing solicitor Arthur Kipps (Robert Goodale) comes to a disused theatre to meet an actor (Antony Eden) for advice and assistance with a story he says: “that must be told”.

As Kipps has no theatrical experience the actor decides to play out the story with himself at the young Kipps, leaving Kipps Senior to play all the other parts.

Not wanting to stay too much and create a spoiler the Young Kipps finds himself being dispatch to the town of Crythin Gifford. Here he must finalise a dead woman’s affairs. He learns, all too late after many horrific and frightening events the reason why all the locals keep away from the foreboding house in the eerie marshes.

Mallatratt’s adaptation is a two hander – its success or failure  rests solely  on the actors and this production has an excellent combination.

Both Antony Eden and Robert Goodale are have brilliant story telling skills and are totally convincing in their characterizations with the ability to jump from the dark side of the plot into some great humorous moments.

Goodale slides easily from one character to the another in both voice and persona whilst  Eden handles the elements of distress and fear with ease.

If you haven’t seen The Woman in Black – it is an enjoyable, but a little scary night out that will have you looking behind you all the way to the car park.

Runs to Saturday 18th September to book. WWW.ATGTICKETS.COM/YORK

Liz Coggins is a member of the Critics Circle



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