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Review: Shrieks and scares in The Woman in Black (touring cast), Fortune Theatre and then on tour

Woman In Black-Recast-26-07-16-Fortune-2096
Matthew Spencer as young Kipps in The Woman In Black, touring cast

The Woman In Black is one of the stalwarts of the West End and it's celebrating 27 years by going on a UK tour. Based on Susan Hill's ghostly novel of the same name, Stephen Mallatratt's adaptation tells the story of a lawyer who wants to unpack the terrifying events of his past by telling his story with the help of an actor.

It is a slow but occasionally amusing set up as the actor (Matthew Spencer) tries to tease some sort of performance out of Mr Kipps' (David Actor) as he recites his tale - it is the ghost story we are all interested in after all. But once we are on that path is when the long standing appeal of this play is evident.

A dark theatre, with its nooks and many entrances and exits proves to be the perfect place to watch a ghostly tale - although the auditorium could be even darker for an even more chilling effect. Kipps' story is of his visit, as a young solicitor, to the isolated and lonely Eel Marsh house. The house gets cut off from the mainland at high tide but can also get cut off by dense sea mists which appear without warning. The house belongs to the recently deceased widow Mrs Drablow and Kipps' job is to put her affairs in order.

The odd behaviour of the locals in the nearby village adds to the spooky atmosphere but it is at Mrs Drablow's funeral that we get a first glimpse of the past and what is to come as the woman in black makes her first appearance.

Through clever stage craft the tension builds as the ghoulish tale unfolds - to say any more would spoil it. If you are afraid of things that go bump in the night then this will have you gripping the arm of your seat - or perhaps the person next to you. If you don't scare easily then there is a great deal of entertainment in enjoying the reaction of those around you, the gasps and shrieks - usually followed by nervous giggles. And, for once, the occasional audible audience whisper usually along the lines of 'where is she?' only adds to the fun.

Matthew Spencer assumes the role of the young Kipps during the ghost story and David Acton takes on the role of all the other characters and the audience response must be immensely satisfying for them (and amusing).

The touring company will perform at the Fortune Theatre until August 22 before heading off around the country for a tour which visits 30 different venues the length and breadth of the country. I'm giving it four stars and it is two hours and 15 minutes long including an interval.