The Woman in Black
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Theater review by Raven Snook
Appropriately billed as "a ghost play in a pub," Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation of Susan Hill’s horror novel The Woman in Black pairs shots with hair-raising shocks. Presented as a play within a play, it begins with a haunted old man named Arthur Kipps (David Acton) imploring an actor (Ben Porter) to help him tell his terrifying real-life tale as an act of purgation. So Porter becomes a young Kipps and reenacts a gothic story of woe, set in a secluded house by the sea in early-20th-century England. Even if you’re unfamiliar with any other version of The Woman in Black—it has also inspired a TV movie, a radio play and a film starring Daniel Radcliffe—you won't need extrasensory powers to predict where it’s going next. It’s about the mood, not the mystery.
Mallaratt’s play was initially mounted in a small-town pub before transferring to London, where it’s been running since 1989. This production in the McKittrick Hotel’s Club Car space, helmed by original director Robin Herford and performed by alums of the West End version, returns the play to its low-tech roots. There are moments of spellbinding stage magic, conjured by Porter and Acton’s dedicated performances, Sebastian Frost’s chilling sound design and Anshuman Bhatia’s clever lighting. But unlike other theatrical ghost stories, such as those of Conor McPherson, The Woman in Black doesn’t cut deep. It winds you up—albeit much too slowly—until you're primed to scream-laugh your head off at a series of verbal and visual reveals. Like the concoctions available at the bar, however, they’re enjoyable but ultimately pass right through you. There’s plenty of scare there, but not a lot of there there.
McKittrick Hotel (Off Broadway). By Stephen Mallatratt. Directed by Robin Herford. With David Acton, Ben Porter. Running time: 2hrs 10mins. One intermission.