By: Paulanne Simmons
January 23, 2020: The horror story, The Woman in Black, has a long and distinguished history. It began as a 1983 novel by Susan Hill and spawned two films. The first was a British teleplay that premiered on Christmas Eve, 1989. The second was released in 2012 and featured Daniel Radcliffe as Arthur Kipps, a young lawyer who is sent to a remote English town to review documents left by the recently deceased Alice Drablow.
In the meantime, Stephen Mallatratt’s stage adaptation, after transferring from the theatre bar at Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarboroug, has become a long-running hit on London’s West End, second only to The Mousetrap. And now, as part of the show’s American tour it’s having a six-week run of blood-curdling screams and ghastly manifestations at the McKittrick Hotel, known for other site-specific productions like Sleep No More and The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart.
This production reunites director Robin Herford with actors Ben Porter and David Acton, who both starred in the London staging, and also returns the show to its original site-specific staging. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a better location for this thriller than the McKittrick, a luxury hotel that had the misfortune of opening a few days before World War II erupted in Europe. Despite recognition from the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, the hotel closed within the year.
Today, the hotel is a relic of its former self. It’s the kind of place where you’re not sure whether to look overhead for falling chandeliers, at your feet for floorboards that may not be able to sustain your weight or around the corner where malicious ghosts may be lying in wait.
The Woman in Black begins with a young Actor (Porter) trying to help the aging Kipps (Acton) prepare to deliver a speech to his family and friends. The speech is about horrific and otherworldly events that began in his youth and have continued to terrify certain people in a certain town in England. Arthur delivers the speech in a low monotone until the Actor takes him in hand. Soon, the Actor becomes the younger Kipps, while Acton plays all the other characters in the narration.
Acton and Kipps fill their roles with chills and chuckles. They seem to tell the audience, “I know I’m scaring you, but it’s all in fun.” The set, sound and lighting designers do the rest, producing frightening sounds, bewildering appearances and strange atmospheric effects.
The story takes a good number of twists. Some are expected. But at least one will make you gasp.
The Woman in Black ****1/2
The McKittrick Hotel
530 W. 27 Street, NYC.
Trough March 8, 2020.
Photography: Jenny Anderson, Robert Day