How The Woman In Black still exerts her fascination - Brighton

It’s one of the great theatrical experiences – and Malcolm James is delighted to return to it. On its latest tour, The Woman In Black plays Theatre Royal Brighton from Tuesday, February 27-Saturday, March 2.
Malcolm James as Arthur Kipps. Photo Tristram KentonMalcolm James as Arthur Kipps. Photo Tristram Kenton
Malcolm James as Arthur Kipps. Photo Tristram Kenton

Over 33 years The Woman In Black has played more than 13,000 performances in the West End and been seen by more than seven million people in the UK.

Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation of Susan Hill’s novel tells the story of a lawyer obsessed with a curse he believes has been cast over his family by the spectre of a Woman in Black. He engages a young actor to help him tell his story and exorcise the fear that grips his soul. It begins innocently enough, but as they delve further into his darkest memories the borders between make-believe and reality begin to blur and the flesh begins to creep…

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And if you happen to scream in the audience, Malcolm for one will be delighted: “It will show that we are doing our job right!”

But the point is “the source material is absolutely fantastic to start with. The novel that Susan Hill wrote back in the early 80s tells a wonderful story and it taps into all those ghost stories, the Charles Dickens stories, the M R James stories. But it's a great story in which the main character and the audience just want to know what is going to happen.

“But also part of the success is that Stephen Mallatratt did a very clever thing which I know was born out of necessity. They had so little money and it was a show that was actually put on over Christmas in the bar. They couldn't afford an entire cast of actors and he said ‘Let's just have two actors.’ And it works, and the fact is the show celebrates that. It doesn't hide it. It is two people meeting in a theatre and they agree that they're going to tell the story between them and so they bring the audience in. It is a fantastic story but it also celebrates the theatre. I hadn’t seen it until back in 2010. That was quite late. I auditioned in 2014 and I got to do the tour. And actually I did Brighton on that tour. And I did the West End run in 2016. Each of those was nine months so it was quite a long time and now I came back to it with this tour (which started last autumn).

“I think coming back to it now, it has been a long enough gap that I really can't remember what I did the last time, certainly not the words and certainly not the physical actions but I was talking to the director Robin Herford, who has always directed the show. It is still Robin at the helm and I was saying to him that I wanted to see if I could find something a little bit different. I play Arthur Kipps but I also play several other characters. Robin said ‘Yes, people enjoy it. It is entertainment. They love being scared and they have a giggle as well and they get this wonderful piece of entertainment but it is also a very human story about grief and about what people go through in times of loss and grief.’ Robin said he really wanted to bring that out. And I think that we have done that this time.

"It feels like a much grittier take on it than we have ever done before. It feels more emotionally intense than the last time around.”