An aging lawyer, Kipps (Sean Baker) has a story he wants to get off his chest – to exorcise, one could say – and turns to an actor (Ben Porter) to help him improve his somewhat stilted delivery. Working in an empty theatre they turn the narrative Kipps has written into a dramatic realisation which allows the lawyer to revisit the terrifying events he experienced as a young man.
It was this very invention that created the rising tension and moments of terror for the packed and expectant audience at the Playhouse. Fear is an emotion best fed by the imagination. Using little more than a few sound effects, some sticks of furniture and a number of cleverly lit silhouettes (Michael Holt’s economical design and Kevin Sleep’s brilliant lighting), Robin Hereford directs a play that builds to a crescendo of screams and gasps. It is this investment of imagination by the audience that guarantees they ‘buy in’ to the horrors that ensue as Kipps’ story unfolds.
Sound and a little fog take us from a London lawyer’s office to a northern coastal town, and a house cut off from the world by sea frets and a causeway submerged at high tide (shades of The Mousetrap and The Real Inspector Hound). A wicker hamper is by turns a railway carriage, a pony trap and a bed. But what lies behind the locked door, and why are the town’s people so loathe to visit the house? Who is the mysterious Woman in Black? What breed of dog is Spider, who accompanies Kipps to the island?
I’m not going to tell you. Go and see it if you can get hold of a ticket – the opening night was a sell-out and it’s a popular show. This was the third time I’ve seen this production and it continues to raise the goose pimples. I also have fingertip bruising on my arm and leg as my companion had not seen the play before!
The audience covered the full range of ages – the screams of shock and horror came from all throats – and there is something for all to enjoy. You’ll be checking the door and window locks when you get home, and more than a few nightlights will be left burning to ward off those ambiguous shadows in the corners of your bedroom!