Theatre Review: THE WOMAN IN BLACK – Palace Theatre, Manchester

Robert Goodale and Anthony Eden bring Susan Hill’s terrifying gothic novel THE WOMAN IN BLACK to life on stage, leading the audience into a false sense of security

4.5 out of 5 stars

Manchester’s iconic Palace Theatre welcomes back audiences after 18 arduous months of closure with the gripping production of THE WOMAN IN BLACK.

Set in the 1950s, Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation of Susan Hill’s gothic novel follows Arthur Kipps, a lawyer from London who requests an Actor’s expertise to help tell the chilling memories that have haunted his nightmares. Left with little hope and desperate to relieve the burden he has carried for many years, Kipps and the Actor make his memories come to life. But should all memories be resurrected from the dead?

Dusty drapes are strewn across the carefully curated set design of Michael Holt, at first offering little insight into the horrors the audience is to face in the following two acts. Arthur Kipps (Robert Goodale) enters the stage and repeatedly speaking in a monotone voice, creates moments of humour as The Actor (Anthony Eden) joins in the dialogue.

Kipps’ law firm has instructed him to deal with the estate of the deceased Mrs Drablow in a small English village. But as the sprightly young Kipps sets about his work, his questions about the prolific Eel Marsh House go unanswered, and it seems there’s something more sinister afoot.

The acting is superb from both Goodale and Eden, who deliver carefully timed lines and execute their roles with grace, sending ripples of belly laughter through the audience. All this humour leads the audience into a false sense of security, as the story develops into the chilling tale we’ve all come to see.

As Kipps’ confidence grows and excels on the bubbling atmosphere, Goodale beautifully transforms his features, posture, and accent to play the many characters the audience meet throughout the play. Without lengthy scene changes or excessive sets, the acting is consistently brilliant and shines through and what a treat it is.

The carefully chosen costume changes, minimalist set and a handful of props work beautifully with Kevin Sleeps lighting, gobos, and perfectly timed sound queues from Sebastian Frost, which transform the varying scenes that unfold. As the story unveils and the closer Eden gets to Eel Marsh House, it brings an unease that drifts through the audience as the eerie fog from the marshes envelops the audience.

To quote a line from the play, the WOMAN IN BLACK offers “excitement mingled with alarm.” A must-see if you dare to draw your hands away from your face.

THE WOMAN IN BLACK runs at the Palace Theatre, Manchester until 28 August 2021