Review: The Woman in Black @ The Lowry, Salford

“I swear I saw her behind that door!” says a young, excited and most probably unnerved audience member to his mate in the interval.

Herein lies the beauty of the ghost story thriller The Woman in Black, showing at The Lowry until Saturday March 25.

Whether you’re young or old, an experienced theatregoer or new to it all, this classic stage production – which has been terrifying audiences since its 1987 debut in Scarborough – has a very simple, but effective formula.

A more intimate setting and theatre works better, the long-running London production at the Fortune Theatre seemingly more vivid, but The Lowry’s own version of Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation from Susan Hill’s 1983 masterpiece is no slouch.

If anything, it’s more comical. And laughter is no bad thing.

SHE’S BEHIND YOU: The Lowry’s ‘Woman in Black’ has a more pantomime feel but is still an enjoyable spectacle

We begin with a barely audible Arthur Kipps (David Acton) trying – and failing – to lay the ghost to rest by putting his horrifying decades-old story into words for a play.

Kipps says he has been haunted by a ghostly woman dressed in black ever since an ill-fated business trip years ago to the desolate North East of England.

Then the actor (Matthew Spencer), who portrays a young Kipps living the nightmare as a fresh-faced, loved-up and and optimistic London solicitor, skips down the aisle injecting energy into the production.

Done with such gusto, the audience are made to jump, a taste of what is to come.

“It’s pretty obvious when the scary bits are coming,” said an older audience member to his friend after the first hour had passed.

True, but that wasn’t fooling anyone.

Eyes widened and pulses up at the break, no one was leaving this production early with the climactic 40-minute second act to come.

Audience participation – and imagination – is then at its peak, as we are led to and from the spooky Eel Marsh House, dog Spider in tow, haunting black spectre ready to pop out at any moment.

OPEN SESAME: Matthew Spencer (the actor) gamely soldiers on towards the sinister door despite most of the audience urging him not to

A door, superb sound & lighting effects, a nursery, a bed, some stairs and the atmospheric marshes that surround the haunted mansion then take centre stage as Spencer bravely stays the night, much to the discomfort of the audience.

Spencer and Acton’s on-stage chemistry evident, this is a worthy watch. Director Robin Herford and the behind-the-scenes musical and lighting pros must also take credit.

With the London production taking bookings until next March, the West End’s second-longest running non-musical play could yet make it to 30 years uninterrupted.

Whether or not you see it at The Lowry or in the capital, if you have one you’ll probably want to remove the upstairs rocking chair…

For those even braver, after watching the play on Friday March 24 there is the option to head to the chilling Ordsall Hall in Salford for a ghost night from 1030pm-230am.

Information and tickets to the The Woman in Black are available here: https://www.thelowry.com/events/woman-in-black

Images courtesy of The Lowry via Flickr, with thanks.

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