6 min read
Susan Hill’s spine-chilling supernatural tale of The Woman in Black will bring the ultimate ghost story to the Blackpool Grand Theatre stage from Tuesday 31 October to Saturday 4 November starring renowned theatre actors Malcolm James as Arthur Kipps and Mark Hawkins as The Actor. Are you brave enough to meet The Woman in Black this Hallowe’en?
The critically acclaimed international theatre event The Woman in Black has been seen by over 7 million people worldwide and continues to terrify and delight audiences of all generations as it returns to Blackpool by popular demand, following an incredible 33-year run at London’s Fortune Theatre. When young solicitor Arthur Kipps is sent to a remote village to settle the estate of a deceased client, strange occurrences and unexplained phenomena begin to haunt him. Determined to uncover the truth, Arthur embarks on a terrifying journey that leads him to unravel a dark secret as the boundaries between the living and the dead blur. Arthur becomes obsessed with a curse he believes has been cast over him and his family by the spectre of a Woman in Black and engages a sceptical young actor to help him tell his terrifying tale and exorcise the fear that grips his soul.
I did not believe in ghosts. Or rather, until this day, I had not done so…
– Arthur Kipps – The Woman in Black
Written in 1983 by Dame Susan Hill, The Woman in Black has become one of the most successful gothic novels in English literature. Set in the early 20th century, it is a masterfully crafted tale of suspense and psychological horror, building tension through its atmospheric
descriptions and a mounting sense of dread. We spoke with the acclaimed author to find out how she came up with the chilling tale and what it’s like to see her famous work come to life:
Where did your original idea for The Woman in Black come from?
“I have always loved reading ghost stories but realised that in recent years not a lot has been written. People were writing horror, but horror is different to me. I ended up making a list of the key elements I thought a good ghost story should have and worked from that. I thought it should have atmosphere, lots of atmosphere, an isolated location which in itself is unnerving, and I was absolutely sure that the ghost needed a reason to be there. I wasn’t sure at first whether that would be because they wanted revenge, or they needed to communicate with the living world, but I knew they had to have motivation. The Woman in Black, she came to me straight away – I wanted her to be a woman and of her period. Then various things that I had found alarming as a child came back into my mind and I wanted to incorporate them – including the image of the dusty, cobweb-covered nursery which I always think has elements of Miss Havisham in it.”
What was it like the first time you saw your characters appear on stage?
“The play is very true to the book and yet simultaneously very different. It works brilliantly in theatrical terms, and it is still my book, but it is also not – and that is exciting. The Woman in Black herself very much existed in my mind, I knew what she felt like, so it is very peculiar to feel her presence in a theatre. They two gentlemen are such brilliantly developed characters and utilised so well by Stephen’s writing for the stage that they become quite different. I’m always interested to see new actors taking it over, because although it is the same text, every pair of actors bring something different to it, it really does change!”
Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation utilises some very traditional theatrical techniques in very innovative ways. Does the play capture the atmosphere of Eel Marsh House the way you envisioned it?
“I think the great thing about the show is that it really does use the theatre, the stage, and it makes the audience work. Stephen Mallatratt’s writing makes you use your imagination, and that’s the brilliance of it and also what makes some elements all the more scary!”
Did you anticipate The Woman in Black stage play would have such a long life?
“Oh no, we thought it would run for six weeks! It opened in Scarborough in 1988 because they had a pantomime on in the theatre there and Alan Ayckbourn, who was the Artistic Director, wanted to have something to put into the studio theatre alongside. Stephen Mallatratt went on holiday and at the airport he picked up The Woman in Black. He was then lying on a beach in Greece and thought he could make this work on the stage. When he wrote to me asking if he could adapt it I thought it was mad, but it’s a truly remarkable piece of theatre.”
Why do you think we as readers or audience members enjoy being scared?
“It’s a funny thing isn’t it? It’s a very primitive instinct, to be frightened. However, the joy of a ghost story is that it is just practice really, we are being frightened delightfully. Whilst we may jump and scream in the theatre, we know that we are safe and can allow ourselves to be
scared, which I think is essential! Perhaps it is our way of learning to manage our fears?”
How does it make you feel when you hear the audience’s reactions to The Woman in Black?
“I’ve seen it so many times and yet sometimes it even makes me jump! I like to watch the show from the wings and be able to see the audience from that angle. It’s especially good when you have school parties in who aren’t expecting to be frightened but then as it begins to get tense suddenly you see the body language of the whole audience shift. Sometimes people react really strongly and shout things out almost involuntarily as they’re so involved in the action on stage!”
Do you believe in ghosts?
“I think I do, in a sense. I’ve never seen one (as far as I know!), but enough people I know have been in a place which emanates a sense of evil and have felt the urge to immediately get away from it. Also, you always hear of dogs having that sense of something not being
right, being spooked, and why would an animal make that up?”
What do you think it is about theatre that makes it such a wonderful storytelling platform?
“People love live theatre. There’s something special about it that you can’t get from Netflix or YouTube. The Woman in Black has a lot of young people in its audiences, many have whom have never been inside a theatre or to a play and it bowls them over. I hope, indeed I
know, that it introduces many to a lifetime of theatre-going which makes me and made Stephen Mallatratt very proud.”
Will you brave this gripping ghost story this Hallowe’en season? Brace yourself for a bone-chilling journey into the dark heart of the unknown, where the line between the real and the spectral becomes perilously thin. It’s a thrilling theatrical treat and that’s no trick! Make a date with The Woman in Black if you dare…
Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black starring renowned theatre actors Malcolm James and Mark Hawkins is at Blackpool Grand Theatre from Tuesday 31 October to Saturday 4 November with evening and matinee performances.
Tickets from £17.50 with some concessions and school rates available. Visit blackpoolgrand.co.uk for full show listings and bookings or call the box office on 01253 290 190 for bookings and further information
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