Back in 2007, I witnessed a fantastic supernatural play in London that creeped me out and continues to haunt the West End to this day. Although it is celebrating over 30 continuous years on the other side of the pond, The Woman In Black has finally returned for only its second off-Broadway engagement. And it was worth the wait for this production, which is subtitled A Ghost Play In A Pub, a nod to the original venue it was staged in. Being staged at the Club Car Bar in the McKittrick Hotel, this three-person play was adapted for the stage by Stephen Mallatratt from the classic ghost story by British author Susan Hill which was published in 1983.
An older man named Arthur Kipps (David Acton) hires a skilled young actor (Ben Porter) to help him reenact a supernatural trauma that he experienced in his youth. He hopes that by having written it down and now telling it he will be able to purge memory of the events from his tortured soul. The older man actually plays all of the supporting male roles while the experienced thespian plays younger Kipps. The two men revisit the horrifying events that the man lived through.
Kipps was a young solicitor asked to catalog items in old Eel Marsh House after its matriarch and final occupant Mrs. Drablow passed away. On top of the strange stories that unnerve the young Kipps, the house itself is cut off from land at night when the tide comes in and washes over the road, leaving him stranded till morning. Strange sounds and ghostly occurrences drive Kipps to the brink of madness, and he must also contend with local villagers shunning his presence. Only the assistance of one villager allows him to understand the horrible occurrences that transpired at Eel Marsh House.
Michael Holt’s stage design for the show is deceptively simple yet effective, and potent sound effects (courtesy of Sebastian Frost), lighting (Anshuman Bhatia), and some fog enhance what is already a very dramatic performance by the actors, who both were in the London production. They even convince you there is a dog onstage. A lot of the creepiness really occurs in the minds of the audience, and the sinister presence of the titular character that permeates the show. There is a lot of humor at the beginning, as the older Kipps struggles to put on a good supporting performance, but he gradually eases into it and becomes a big part of this dark tale. And when the scares do come in, they are very effective.
Being a lifelong horror fan, I was pleased that The Woman In Black hasn’t lost its potency in the 13 years since I first saw it. For me, it was also fun to watch the reaction of people who have never experienced it before. The intimate venue certainly helps to amplify the fear. When Broadway brings a scary story on board, it’s usually in the form of singing vampires in underwhelming shows like Lestat. I can’t stand singing vampires. This is the real deal, and I wish we could see something like it on the Great White Way. (The last thing that was close was Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman back in 2005.)
Smartly directed by Robin Herford, The Woman In Black is old-fashioned scary storytelling that doesn’t require millions of dollars of scenery, lighting, and video to really get under your skin. At its heart lies a tragic story with an ending that will creep you out. Even if you have seen the intense 2012 film starring Daniel Radcliffe, you will still enjoy this rendition as the staging and ending are different. Seeing it live is also quite entertaining.
Want to get your spook on? See The Woman In Black.
See The Woman In Black at the Club Car Bar at the McKittrick Hotel at 530 W. 27th St., Chelsea, NYC. The show closes March 8, 2020.