Everything you need to know about The Woman in Black

By | Posted on 24-Apr-2019

Everything you need to know about The Woman in Black

The spine-chilling play has scared audiences at the Fortune Theatre since 1989. With just two cast members on stage, theatregoers have found themselves drawn into every word uttered between Arthur Kipps and the Actor as they try to keep their cool with plenty of ghostly apparitions afoot. Sending audiences crazy with its theatrical masterclass in building tension and suspense, read all about The Woman in Black with us, from its humble beginnings to how the production has become timeless.

All you need to know about The Woman in Black

How did The Woman in Black make it to London?

First performed as a Christmas ghost story in Scarborough in 1987, the low budget for the performance did not detract from the high-quality performance. Based on Susan Hill’s 1983 text, the book was adapted for the stage. Stephen Mallatratt, the play eventually transferred to London theatres in January 1989.

It was clear that the cast and creative team were on to something special. Selling out the first night and hundreds of audience members later, The Woman in Black played in Scarborough for three weeks, with the stage adaptation worked upon and perfected until the show opened at the Lyric Hammersmith on 11th January 1989.

The original cast of the London production of The Woman in Black starred David Burke and Charles Kay sharing the role of Arthur Kipps, while The Actor was played by John Duttine and Andrew Havill for alternating performances.

The Woman in Black was staged at Lyric Hammersmith for four weeks, then making its way around the West End. Moving to the Strand Theatre (now the Novello Theatre) and the Playhouse Theatre, the show eventually settled at the Fortune Theatre in August 1989 where it has been performed ever since.

With The Woman in Black at the Fortune Theatre for just under 30 years, the production is the third longest-running show to be staged at one venue, behind The Mousetrap and The Phantom of the Opera.

Who is Susan Hill?

Born in 1942, Susan Hill is the author of The Woman in Black. Writing dozens of books throughout her career, Hill was awarded a CBE in 2012 for services to literature. Hill’s novels have a distinct style which revolve around building suspense and atmosphere to create a climatic ending. Although The Woman in Black is arguably Hill’s most-successful book, other texts by the award-winning writer include I’m The King of the Castle, The Mist in the Mirror and the Simon Serrailler crime novels, with the final book in the series to be released this year.

What’s the synopsis?

The Woman in Black

When Arthur Kipps is called to attend the funeral of Alice Drablow, he journeys to the isolated estate of Eel Marsh House. There, he treads alone until he glimpses the shadows of an unnamed young woman, dressed all in black. Later in the play, we meet Arthur Kipps who reiterates his experiences to an actor who dramatises Kipps’ thoughts and feelings. Haunted by the spirit of a woman, Kipps tells of his experiences in order to rid himself of past demons that plague his day-to-day life.

Who is in the cast of The Woman in Black?

Only two actors appear on stage throughout the entire production.

Stuart Fox plays Arthur Kipps, who returns to the Fortune Theatre to take on the lead role once again. Aside from The Woman in Black, he has appeared in The Normal Heart at the Royal Court.

Matthew Spencer will also join the production, reprising his performance as The Actor in The Woman in Black. As well as starring in this show, his other West End credits include War Horse at the New London Theatre (now Gillian Lynne), 1984 at the Playhouse Theatre and a National Theatre production of Amadeus.

The Woman in Black

The previous cast included Richard Hope plays Arthur Kipps, with previous theatre credits including a national tour of The History Boys, King Lear at the Almeida Theatre and Democracy at the Old Vic.

Mark Hawkins last played the role of The Actor, who makes his West End debut in the production. Across London theatres, he has performed in The Railway Children at King’s Cross Theatre, Muted at The Bunker and Richard III at the Actors Church.

Have there been other adaptations of The Woman in Black?

With this ghost story told frequently throughout the 20th century and beyond, it’s unsurprising that the original novel by Susan Hill has been further adapted for stage and screen, aside from the 1989 West End production.

Shortly after the show opened at the Fortune Theatre, families gathered around the television to watch The Woman in Black as a television-horror film. Whilst the storyline followed the original book and stage adaptation, the names of characters were changed (Arthur Kipps to Arthur Kidd) and the film starred 12 actors, not just two as is seen in the theatre.

The Woman in Black
Photo credit: Wikipedia under CC 3.0

Although radio adaptations of The Woman in Black have been broadcast, the most famous retelling of The Woman in Black came in 2012, when Daniel Radcliffe starred as Arthur Kipps in the film adaptation. Rather than following the exact storyline as portrayed in the stage show, the movie told Susan Hill’s horror story in a new way, with the ghostly figure of a woman never directly referenced as the “woman in black”. A 2015 sequel titled The Woman in Black: Angel of Death followed the film adaptation, however the sequel has never been staged.

What is the future of The Woman in Black?

Photo credit: Wikipedia (CC 3.0)

With The Woman in Black currently scheduled for performances through to 26th September 2020, it’s clear that the production will remain in the hearts of West End theatregoers for a long time to come. It’s also scheduled to run at the Fortune Theatre, further establishing the playhouse’s legacy is tied to the second-longest running play in London.

Has the production changed since 1989?

The show’s ability to resonate with different generations for over three decades makes it apparent that The Woman in Black is a special, one-of-a-kind production that’s earned its place in theatre history. Rather than the show developing technically and incorporating modern lighting and sound to bring the show into the 21st century, The Woman in Black remains faithful to its original staging and presentation. Now part of Theatreland’s fabric, it offers audiences a unique experience to travel back in time at the theatre and experience a part of West End history.

One of the longest-running plays in West End history, read all about eight plays which managed to outlast other productions around them.

Where can I see it in London’s West End and how do I get there?

The Woman in Black is playing at the Fortune Theatre, located on Russell Street (WC2B 5HH). The closest train station is Charing Cross, which is a 7-minute walk away. Piccadilly Line underground services are available from Covent Garden tube station, just a short walk away.