Cleveland, Ohio — Will Cleveland Play House’s “The Woman in Black” cause you to have nightmares? Probably not. Will it give you chills and an unsettling feeling during the show? Perhaps. But will it impress you with its fine acting, incredible effects and clever staging? Absolutely.
There is a reason that horror doesn’t often emerge from the shadows to show its face on stage. More commonly than not, it’s because the scary stories we know so well from the pages of the book or the screen of a movie theatre don’t translate as effectively on the stage. “The Woman in Black” is an exception.
“The Woman in Black” is one of those scary stories that has graced all three of these mediums. Susan Hill wrote the book “The Woman in Black” in 1983, which was then adapted into a play by Stephen Mallatratt in 1987 and again into a film starring Daniel Radcliffe in 2012.
The story follows solicitor Arthur Kipps (Bradley Armacost), who is sent by his boss to attend his client, Alice Drablow’s, funeral. After paying his respects, Arthur makes a trip to the late Alice’s house, a lonely building stationed in the middle of a marsh, to go through her assets. What was already a difficult job is made even more daunting when Arthur is haunted by a vicious specter, and as Arthur begins to uncover the ghost’s dark past, his future is in jeopardy.
It is now years later, and Arthur is ready to tell his friends and family his ghost story. He seeks the help of an actor (Adam Wesley Brown) to help him dramatize the story and hopefully help him clear his conscious.
The play opened in London in 1989 and is still running, making it the second longest-running, non-musical play in the West End. Robin Herford, the show’s original director in London, is now directing the show at Cleveland Play House before he takes it touring across the country. And the team he has with him is superb.
Armacost and Brown are two fantastic storytellers. The two use different costumes, mannerisms and accents to portray all the characters in the retelling of Arthur’s story, and they do so with finesse and distinction. Due to the fantastic acting, these characters feel real, and so our empathetic feelings toward them are real, as well.
Staying true to the London production, Herford has employed the work of the show’s original designers, and it’s easy to see why.
An empty, cloth-covered and out-of-use stage designed by Michael Holt converts from Arthur and the Actor’s rehearsal space into various other locations, including the spooky house in the marsh. Gareth Owen’s sound design helps to transform these spaces with the simple sounds of a clock ticking or the sound of hooves beating.
Kevin Sleep and his lighting design should be named as another star in this show. The lighting of semi-transparent cloth renders backgrounds visible, then invisible. Complete darkness lit only by a flashlight blinds the audience then reveals horrors and ominous transitions from light to dark, which occur so effortlessly that you barely register the change until it is complete.
Jump scares are used heavily within this show, and judging by the gasps of the audience, they are used quite effectively; but then again, who wouldn’t be startled by a random scream or the sudden slam of a door?
Horror movie regulars and those attending haunted houses such as the famous Fear Factory or Bloodview probably won’t bat an eye during “The Woman in Black.” But “The Woman in Black” does manage to manifest a creepy and eerie atmosphere as the show progresses, although one never quite gets the spine-tingling urge to check over their shoulder.
All of that being said, “The Woman in Black” is still successful. This play is sure to unsettle you just as much as the 2017 film would, and for a stage production with its many limitations, that is very impressive.
“The Woman in Black” isn’t terrifying, and for some it might not even be that scary. But it is remarkable storytelling worth seeing this Halloween season.
WHERE: Allen Theatre, 1407 Euclid Ave., Cleveland
WHEN: Through Oct. 7
TICKETS & INFO: $25 – $85, call 216-241-6000 or go to clevelandplayhouse.com
Photo Caption: Left front: Adam Wesley Brown (The Actor), Back: Bradley Armacost (Arthur Kipps). Photo credit: Roger Mastroianni.