Review: The Woman In Black

Review: The Woman In Black

Richmond hosts the West End hit – and the theatre’s own tour guide is utterly compelling in the lead role


The Woman in Black has been chilling and thrilling audiences in equal measure for over 30 years. Based on Susan Hill’s classic ghost story, Stephen Mallatratt’s stage adaptation relies on all the power of pure theatre to weave its spell. The audience has to be complicit in it all, the two main characters must have us hanging off their every word, and the lighting and sound effects need to work in eerie harmony.

First shown in Scarborough in 1987, the play went to Hammersmith’s Lyric Theatre, then on to the West End, finally settling at Fortune in 1989. The play is on tour, and it’s Richmond’s turn to host.

It is a proud moment for the theatre, with their very own Mark Hawkins, who currently works there as a Box Office Sales Assistant and a Tour Guide, playing the character simply known as The Actor. He is joined by Malcolm James who returns to The Woman in Black as Arthur Kipps, which he has played previously on tour and at the Fortune Theatre.

It starts as a play within a play, revealing the plight of a man who believes he has been cursed by the ‘woman in black’…

A young lawyer sent to settle the estate of the late Mrs Drablow. It has all the gothic essentials. We move between graveyards, an isolated house and foggy marshland. Rather than any dramatic change in set, it is down to the actors, sound and light to convince us. And convince us it does. The props are sparse. We even have to conjure up a dog in our imaginations, as well as a pony and trap and a train. Footsteps can be heard walking across an empty house. There are sinister shadows of elongated fingers.

There are plenty of jump scare moments (that had some of the younger members of the audience actually screaming out – the play’s popularity as study matter in schools brings in English and and Drama students) but where it really excels is in the foreboding atmosphere. It makes use of lighting to incredible effect, smoke machines recreate the marshlands.

There is also some humour, too, which makes the darker moments all the more terrifying. Mark Hawkins and Malcolm James are compelling to watch and have the audience expectant as to what they will do next.

A thrilling play that really gets under your skin and reminds you just what a collective theatre experience is all about.

Richmond Theatre, until 18 November

Age guidance, 12+

Image: The Woman in Black 2023. Mark Hawkins. Photo by Mark Douet