I kept looking over my shoulder all the way back to my car, the dark shadows and night-time silence unnerving, waiting subconsciously for the sound of footsteps, someone following me, a carriage, horses, a child screaming.
Yes I’d been to The Woman In Black, based on the famously terrifying Susan Hill book, then film and West End stage show, which is on all week at Oxford Playhouse, and scares the living daylights out of its audience on a daily basis, something they apparently enjoy as they keep coming back for more.
“I spent the next two hours with my nails dug into my daughters arm”
I don’t like being scared, never have, but as all our reviewers were away, it was up to me to pull up my big girl pants and face the music. And as I reached the Oxford Playhouse I noticed a certain posturing bravado amongst those preparing to go in – it was a badge of honour it would seem not to find it scary, especially for the teenagers in the aisles below us.
How it would have been to watch The Woman In Black in a packed, rather than socially distanced, audience I cannot say, but one assumes that a collective tide of terror would have been more atmospheric. However being allowed into the theatre at all was an immense pleasure, even if I did spend the next two hours with my nails dug into my daughters arm.
But onto the play itself. The premise is simple. An actor, played by Antony Eden, is employed by an old man Kipps (Robert Goodale) who wants to relay his lifestory to his friends and family before he dies.
READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH ANTHONY EDEN HERE: https://www.oxinabox.co.uk/the-audience-screams-every-night-terrifying-ghost-story-the-woman-in-black-comes-to-oxford-playhouse-from-the-west-end/
After a rather drawn out start, the pair decide that to bring the story to life the actor would take up the role of Old Kipp, almost as a narrator, while the old man plays the remaining characters.
And so we come to envisage the setting – a remote corner on the North East coast. Arthur Kipp is keen to make his mark in a London firm of solicitors so delighted to be sent to sort out the affairs of deceased client Alice Drablow.
But on his arrival at Crythin Gifford, just the name Alice Drablow has the local inhabitants whimpering, and after advancing up to Eel Marsh House, an isolated and desolate estate on the marshland, he soon sees why.
“what is extraordinary is how these two actors kept us so enthralled, terrified and on the edge of our seats for two hours”
What follows is a ghastly unveiling of the dark history behind Alice Drablow and her family’s demise, which slowly envelops everyone that surrounds the cursed family in terror.
And while I won’t spoil it, what is extraordinary is how these two actors kept us so enthralled, terrified and on the edge of our seats for two hours with a bare set and a minimum of props.
So did I scream? Yes, and jumped out of my skin, and watched half of it through my fingers.
And although it’s over, every time it gets dark, or I have to go upstairs in the dark, the faintest noise takes me back to The Woman In Black and her enduring effect.
The Woman In Black is at Oxford Playhouse until Saturday July 24. For info and to book go to https://www.oxfordplayhouse.com/events/the-woman-in-black