Review of The Woman In Black at The Fortune Theatre
Cast: Arthur Kipps – David Acton, The Actor – Ben Deery
Residing on the dimly lit Russell Street, in the shadow of Theatre Royal Drury Lane, The Woman in Black has been a strong feature in London’s West End for 23 successful years. Every night, in this tiny theatre, an audience is gripped, stunned and hooked into the realm of the unknown. How has The Woman in Black managed to keep going in this ever-gloomy economic climate? If you see it, you’ll understand why.
Without giving away too much of the story, The Woman in Black is a rehearsal within a play set-up. An aging Arthur Kipps (David Acton) has suffered his whole adult life with the agonising after-effects of a dreadful trauma he experienced as a young man. This is something so terrifying that he cannot bear to talk openly about it, so hires an actor (Ben Deery) to act out the scenario for his family and friends, thus exposing the drama and explaining his fears. We see the rehearsal process and the collaboration between the two characters, the actor playing Kipps as his young self, and Kipps playing all other roles. Through Kipps’ eyes, the audience sees the story unfold and encounters all that Kipps himself encountered in his youth.
David Acton is a fine example of versatility in the part of Arthur Kipps. As Kipps himself, he is nervous, tense and vulnerable with a wonderful determination to see the play through, despite his fears. When playing all the other characters in his own story, Acton takes on the physicality of each individual with incredible agility and variety. For any young actor, like myself, seeing Acton embody multiple roles with a sharp change of energy, focus and attention to detail is a lesson in itself. He is marvelous to watch.
The role of the actor really is key to The Woman in Black’s success with all the suspense and heart wrenching emotion being shown through this one role. Ben Deery made a wonderful impression as the young Arthur Kipps and played out the dramatic scenes superbly. The fear that the audience feels throughout is due to the tension being created on stage and Deery is the instigator. Not once did the play become exaggerated, over-the-top or false. I truly believed him.
As most teenagers still do, I studied The Woman in Black when I was around 14 or 15, we went to see the play back then and screamed at every jumpy moment. I thought that the play might lose its tension and suspense over time, and also because I have seen it before, this might also affect my evening. Far from it, the set has evolved throughout the years, and the suspense is just as close to the knife-edge as before. The whole audience was gripped to the action on the stage and most were watching through cracks in their fingers held over their eyes. It’s terrifying in parts, but you can’t stop watching.
I would recommend The Woman in Black to anyone without question (perhaps not those with an extreme nervous disposition however). The story-telling is first rate and the acting superb. There’s no wonder this tiny little theatre in London’s dazzling West End sees audiences flooding through the doors 23 years after its premiere.
Covent Garden, London
Page updated 18th October 2014