Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Anticipating fear

Review: There were times in the Oxford Playhouse while watching The Woman In Black when you felt you’d accidentally stumbled

Review: There were times in the Oxford Playhouse while watching The Woman In Black when you felt you’d accidentally stumbled into a Beatles concert circa 1964. The screaming from adolescent schoolgirls was so loud and piercing that it overwhelmed everything.

It’s a scary show, no doubt about that. It’s full of chilling and spine-tingly moments and is structured so that the biggest fear comes from anticipation, rarely from the appearance of the ghostly Woman In Black — not that we see her a great deal.

The play is a two-hander which has enjoyed 25 years’ success in the West End. It’s undemanding fare relying upon surprise, suspense and shock rather than any real story, but it’s done exceptionally well within those parameters.

An ambitious young solicitor is tasked with sorting out the affairs of a recently deceased client at a remote coastal village somewhere in the north of England. He is a realist and has no belief in ghosts...until...

Of course he encounters the embittered ghost of a woman 60 years dead who continues to wreak her vengeance randomly.

It was the pent-up tension as the man firmly rooted in the temporal world meets the woman beyond it that caused the girls to scream so much in the auditorium. The theatre was about two-thirds-filled with school coachloads, all of whom looked about 14.

It is an excellent show for them to see: the play has drama, invention, not much subtlety and a very good twist at the end. In fact it whistles along like a thoroughbred for the last two thirds.

The first third plods like a donkey though. It’s slow, ponderous and goes nowhere until, finally, 45 minutes in, we get to see the Woman In Black. It’s as though at that point someone decided to light a fuse because it fires off like a rocket after that.

But that said, everything which goes before is still an education for the young drama student — we are given instruction in acting, projection, the use of props, the idea that an audience will trust you if you tell them a laundry hamper is a coach, or that nothing at all except hand gestures indicate a dog being there.

And the acting in a demanding two hours is exemplary. Matt Connor and Malcolm James give virtuoso performances and interpret what can be a difficult script very well.

The Woman In Black runs until tomorrow (Saturday). Box office 01865 305305 or online at www.oxford

The Woman In Black

Oxford Playhouse

January 26

Mike Rowbottom

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