Review: The Woman in Black

LOTTIE UNWIN will be sleeping with the light on for a few days.

Mallatrat Robin Herford The Cambridge Arts Theatre

Monday 1st – Saturday 6th March, 7.45 with matinees at 2.30 on Thursday and Saturday.  £10-27.

Directed by Robin Herford. 

The Woman in Black has been on at the Fortune Theatre in London’s West End since 7th June 1989, a year, to the day, before I was born.  That I am still alive is good though not really to my credit, but the fact that the show still sells out is remarkable. 

Reputation evidently preceded the production on tour; the Arts Theatre was completely packed and the anticipation of the giggly audience tangible.  Stupidly, I sat down really thinking that more than seven million people were being wet and it wouldn’t fool me.  I was categorically wrong.

The Woman in Black does not claim to be revolutionary or profound, it solely seeks to entertain and does a phenomenal job.  It demonstrates the brilliant capacity of theatre to hold you on the edge of your seat, embraced by the illusion that what is going on is real.  There are only two names on the cast list, some clever set and a smoke machine but I still had sweat dripping down my back in the second half.   I jumped out of my seat, gasped and threw my hand to my mouth at every sound effect, completely stripped of my swagger as I left.  I just wanted someone to hold my hand. 

I saw the Exorcist when I was twelve and all of us in the room, as subject to peer pressure as each other, made constant and frantic jokes to hold back tears of fear.  The huge school groups’ laughter had the same response and the same result, shattering the atmosphere for the rest of us.  However, in places the play is funny wonderfully aware that it’s a unique piece of theatre, playing wittily on the nature of performance.   The formula is conclusively a winner, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s, well, formulaic. When Mr. Kipps proclaims the story ‘must be told’ with all the booming drama you would expect, I rolled my eyes.  I pondered how on earth the show could end without an anticlimax, and although it did manage to I was disappointed in myself that I hadn’t seen it coming.

The Woman in Black will distract you from dissertation disasters with the efficiency of a bottle of wine in The Bun Shop.  And, it has the added advantage that you feel great the day after.  Although, on second thoughts, I would recommend you arrange for someone to sleep in your bed.  I regret not having done so and have just sent a pathetic version of a booty call text.   The scary woman in the rocking chair might come and get me otherwise.