The Woman In Black, Theatre Review. Playhouse Theatre, Liverpool.

Liverpool Sound and Vision Rating * * * *

Cast: David Acton, Matthew Spencer.

A good ghost story never flinches in the face of modern day scepticism, if anything it can grow with stature, it can take on almost a life of its own, of becoming a haunting reminder of the world in between realities that shape and bend our perceptions of what is clear and unsullied and what is blurred, distorted and afraid to step out of the shadows. A good ghost story is one which you can feel the person next to you wanting to jump out of their skin, their creeping flesh tingle with nervousness and anticipation; there are many that have this effect but few capture the pure sense of emotion that is inherent as The Woman In Black.

Returning to the Playhouse Theatre in Liverpool after a gap of six years, Susan Hill’s modern classic still has the power to disturb, especially in the ghoulish sense of watching the reactions of a first time audience; it is in that delicious scream, the unnerved and the silent that the production’s surging energy and darkly lit stage resonates and holds firm, the shadows forever holding the attention and the feeling of the sinister welling up.

It is the nature of the beast that a ghost story can unsettle the nerves arguably more than any horror; a ghost story feels real, the more convincing its premise the more frightened and enlightened we become in its presence. The Woman In Black is very much a standard bearer for that emotional tie and one that keeps giving in abundance the more often you see it.

To perform in such a play takes deftness, skill and outrageous temperament, it is to carry all in the expressions upon the face, the verbal communication enhancing the drama and the back and forth nature conversation between the two people on stage and the entity that scurries between their lines. In both David Acton and Matthew Spencer that furrowed brow, the look of astonishment and perplexed sense of reaching beyond the thin veil is acute, palpable and sincere, it is a joy and a beautiful terror to see them on stage in such a production.

The Woman In Black may have been missing off the Liverpool stage for half a decade but it is play that stays with you, long into the night and the dawn of the next morning.

Ian D. Hall