REVIEW: The Woman In Black at Wolverhampton Grand

When there's a distinct atmosphere in the foyer before you even enter the auditorium, you can be fairly sure that you're in for a good night. For tonights performance of The Woman In Black, that atmosphere was one of trepidation, shared by so many people as they took their seats!

The Woman in Black is a stage play, first performed in 1987 and based on the 1983 book of the same name by English author Susan Hill. The production opened in London's West End in 1989 and ran until March 2023, becoming the second longest-running non-musical play in West End history, after The Mousetrap

The Woman in Black is also notable for only having two actors perform the entire piece alongside an incredibly simple set with very few props.

The story follows Arthur Kipps, a junior solicitor, as he journeys to the small market town of Crythin Gifford to attend the funeral of a client - Alice Drablow. At the funeral, he sees a young woman with a wasted face, dressed all in black, standing in the churchyard.

Bemused by the villagers' reluctance to speak of the 'woman in black' Arthur goes to Eel Marsh House, Mrs. Drablow's former home which is an old building in the middle of a marsh, cut off from the mainland at high tide. Sorting through her papers, he finds a box of letters, and ultimately discovers the dreadful secret of the woman in black – to his own cost.

The first point of note is that a very large portion of the success of this production is the exquisite use of sound and, in particular lighting, designed by Sebastian Frost and Kevin Sleep respectively. Rarely do you find a show that relies so heavily on these conventions and the manner in which they were executed was a key part of the success of the piece.

However absolute credit has to go to Malcolm James (Arthur Kipps) and Mark Hawkins (The Actor) for their outstanding portrayal of the two lead roles. Both had a daunting enough time leading a two-man show, let alone having to play such a large variety of characters. Their performances were slick, polished, well rehearsed and with such gravitas that, as a member of the audience, you felt compelled to watch their every move.

This piece is also insanely wordy; for two actors to effectively perform concurrent monologues for almost two hours must be an exhausting task, but such was the talent of those fulfilling the roles that the energy never dipped and the pathos never faltered.

This production has been described as 'one of the most brilliantly effective spine chillers you will ever encounter' and, I have to admit, the part of me that was trepidation free (and that's a very small part!) was wary about how well a show that's been running for nearly 30 years would stand up in 2023. That fear was very much misplaced, though.

This isn't a play that's 'ghost train' or 'zombie film' scary - it's a piece of theatre that plays with your emotions and lulls you into a false sense of security. It heightens your senses and makes you question every creak of the auditorium seating. However don't let that stop you buying tickets - to see two acting greats on stage. Although some said there was a third performer...but my programme disagrees...

The Woman In Black plays at Wolverhampton's Grand Theatre until 9th September 2023. For more information, or to get your tickets, visit

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