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Fortune Theatre

  • Theatre
  • Covent Garden
© Susie Rea

Time Out says

This intimate, slightly down-at-heel theatre hosts a long-running West End chiller

Owned by the Ambassador Theatre Group since 2001, the Fortune has been the home of Susan Hill’s perenially popular lo-tech chiller ‘The Woman in Black’ for an astonishing three decades. The venue originally opened in 1924, on the site of a former tavern, and was the first London theatre to be built after the First World War. It played host to a mix of amateur and professional productions and was used by ENSA during the Second World War. Afterwards, it saw performances by variety acts such as Flanders and Swann and, later Beyond the Fringe, as well as musical comedies and thrillers.

Look closely at its facade and you'll see unusual renaissance-inspired friezes, of a historical lavishness that's continued inside: the entrancehall features the ominous Shakespeare inscription 'There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune'. These historical notes call back to the theatre that the Fortune is named for, an Elizabethan playhouse that burned down in 1621. 

It’s a slightly shabby but particularly intimate and atmospheric venue that lends itself to Hill’s intrinsically theatrical ghost story with an enduring effectiveness. With only 432 seats, it's perfectly suited to a two-hander, letting audiences hang on the performers' every word. The stripped-down production is also a solid financial prospect for the theatre's owners, and the promise of some old-school chills has kept box office tills ringing since 1989.


Russell Street
Tube: Covent Garden/Holborn
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What’s on

The Woman in Black

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Drama

It's been decades since this skillful adaptation of Susan Hill's 1983 Gothic horror story first started setting West End audience a-shiver. 'The Woman in Black' remains perennially popular – particularly, it seems, with generally hard-to-please teenagers – which is testament to its rough-theatre appeal and the extraordinary and enduring potency, not of guts, gore or special effects, but of simple suggestion. Ageing Arthur Kipps is haunted by sinister events that befell him 30 years earlier. In an effort to exorcise his demons, he hires an actor to help him tell his story for an invited audience. As they rehearse, though, their staging itself becomes prey to supernatural visitations from the titular hatchet-faced, whip-thin, funereally garbed woman. Stephen Mallatratt's dramatisation and a deft production by Robin Herford exploit the peculiarly spooky atmosphere of an empty theatre, making us, as an audience, feel almost like spectral voyeurs. And the chills are irresistibly effective: swirling fog, a creaking rocking chair, a locked door, a pale visage looming out of the gloom. Only occasionally does the staging show its age. The projected image of the gaunt, sinister house of Kipps' tormented memory looks hopelessly cheap and crude, and a graveyard conjured with dust sheets struggles to convince, even within the low-tech aesthetic parameters of the piece. Yet the shrieks and gasps that greet the performance demonstrate that, even in the twenty-first century, this doughty lit

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