It’s so long since I read Susan Hill’s supernatural thriller I can’t quite remember exactly how well or otherwise it works, though I definitely remember the Daniel Radcliffe film which seems to lack a genuinely chilling atmosphere – but this adaptation by Stephen Mallatratt has the lot.
Here the original story is beautifully filleted in a way which does the supernatural thrill of the original story full justice. In the process it gives the tale a convincing human warmth which draws us in bit by bit until we’re trapped in a supernatural web as effectively as if we were ourselves characters in this insidiously sinister tale.
This is all the more surprising as the production features only two actors who between them play all the roles in a rare display of theatrical virtuosity that brings the tale vividly to life while striking a genuine note of chilling fear that’s both unnerving and outstanding.
And the reason of course is because this is no painstakingly assembled film. This is raw, visceral, seat of the pants theatre, in which the subtlety of the production gradually weaves a spell that creeps insidiously into the auditorium and strikes a genuine note of the uncanny, again and again.
Here it’s time to salute the sheer style of the production in general. Set, costumes, script, the playing, are all here of the highest quality, as unusually effective sound effects and quite simply marvellous lighting allow this production to conjure up a host of locations from station waiting rooms to inn parlours, and from pony and trap journeys across treacherous fog-bound marshes to the interiors of Dickensian offices and the chilling gloom of a deserted, closed-up mansion.
Add to this the virtuosity of this adaptation’s two players, David Acton and Matthew Spencer, who between them conjure up a cornucopia of characters from a taciturn farmer to a welcoming landlord and you have an evening of unusual quality where the audience quite unnervingly never knows what’s going to happen next.
In short, Robin Herford’s inspired direction takes us willingly into the heart of a supernatural mystery and makes sure that from first to last no opportunity to thrill is missed out.
A powerful masterpiece of theatre, and a thoroughly good night out.
The Woman In Black runs until Saturday (September 17). For tickets ring the box office on 01543 412121 or visit www.lichfieldgarrick.com.