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The Woman in Black: Spooky horror is a scary treat

Updated: Feb 12

Audiences are hard to scare these days, you might think. Sophisticated, big-budget movie and TV horrors have perhaps made us immune to old-fashioned ghost stories.

So a 30-year-old play, with a cast of two, a simple set design, and a familiar story from a best-selling novel couldn’t possibly provoke any fear, could it?

Oh, yes, it could! Just ask the packed audience at the opening night of The Woman in Black at the New Theatre, Cardiff last night (Tuesday 19 September). I expect their screams were heard in Rhiwbina!

Stephen Mallatratt’s acclaimed adaptation of Dame Susan Hill’s best-selling novel tells the story of a lawyer in 1950s London, obsessed with a curse that he believes has been cast over his family by the spectre of a ‘Woman in Black’.

He hires a young actor and an empty theatre to help him tell his story and exorcise the fear that haunts him.

At the start, it’s surprisingly light-hearted, as the uptight middle-aged lawyer clashes with the flamboyant young performer – but the laughter only serves to lower your defences for what’s to follow.

As the pair delve further into his darkest memories, the reenactment becomes all too real. And we are transported to the isolated and mysterious Eel Marsh House, with its sense of dread, inexplicable visions, and dark secrets which lead to outright terror.

Malcolm James and Mark Hawkins are excellent in the main roles, and Robin Herford’s direction ensures the story is perfectly paced – steadily increasing the sense of dread.

The set design by Michael Holt, lighting by Kevin Sleep and Alexander Hannah, and sound by Rod Mead and Sebastian Frost all contribute hugely to the overall package that makes this such a scary treat.

If you enjoy spooky horror that builds tension then makes you jump out of your seat, this is for you. If you are easily spooked, I suggest you stay away. This is the scariest thing I’ve seen in the theatre since the formidable Ghost Stories.

The Woman in Black plays at the New Theatre until Saturday (23 September). Tickets are available here or from the box office on 0343 310 0041.

Review by Andy Weltch

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