REVIEW: The Woman In Black brings chills to Milton Keynes Theatre

It’s time for The Woman In Black to step out from the shadows and make a sinister appearance at Milton Keynes Theatre.
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The legendary production of Susan Hill’s chilling ghost story comes to MK this week direct from London’s West End, after a 33-year run at the Fortune Theatre.

The production features Malcolm James as solicitor Arthur Kipps and Mark Hawkins as The Actor – and that’s the entire cast if we’re not counting the ghostly figure that makes fleeting appearances during two hours of suspense.

I say two hours, but I thought the play did actually start off quite slowly, and didn’t really hit its stride until a good half hour in.

The Woman in Black. Photo by Mark DouetThe Woman in Black. Photo by Mark Douet
The Woman in Black. Photo by Mark Douet

During this time I couldn’t help but notice the fidgety audience – with seats being wriggled in, sweet wrappers being rustled, and what seemed to be a coughing competition going on across the auditorium for extended periods (free bottles of water for all perhaps!?). It really didn’t help set the mood, but stick with it and slowly but surely the foundations are built for what ends up being a tension-packed thriller.

Kipps has the manuscript of his own frightening story. He hires a young actor to help dramatise it all in a 1950s theatre. The actor plays a younger Kipps, and Kipps himself plays all the other characters and narrates the play.

He hopes that by telling his tale he can end the curse of the Woman In Black. Whenever anyone sees her there is always one repercussion – a child dying in sinister circumstances.

The set for this show is sparse but that isn’t a problem as you’re invited to let your imagination run wild – and it’s most definitely a case of less is more as we’re taken on a train ride, aboard a pony and trap, through misty marshland, a graveyard and the eerie Eel Marsh House.

The latter is the home of the elderly and reclusive widow, Alice Drablow, whose death sparks Kipps’ journey to the small town of Crythin Gifford to sort through her private papers and the mystery unfolds.

The sound effects, plus the use of lighting (or lack of it), is simply superb and really helps build the atmosphere. So much so, that you’ll probably jump out of your seat on more than once occasion when haunting screams fill the air, or when the Woman in Black emerges – it’s no wonder the Crythin Gifford locals are so wary!

A two-man show can’t be easy, but Malcolm James and Mark Hawkins do a remarkable job with the material – and there’s simply no hiding place when you’ve two hours of dialogue to recite and few other on-stage distractions for the audience – bar that shadowly figure showing up every once in a while.

The Woman in Black runs until Saturday, April 6. Book your tickets here if you dare!