It is astonishing to think that it was 26 years ago that this tiny and unassuming play opened in the West End following its short run in Scarborough where it had first been developed. Adapted from Susan Hill’s novel it has now had the Hollywood makeover as well with a sequel due for release anytime soon. These blockbuster film versions betray the roots of this superb piece of theatre however. The power of Robin Herford’s production is in its complete simplicity and total theatricality.
Just two men tell this vast and elaborate tale that is both dark and emotionally charged. Cleverly constructed in an adaptation by Stephen Mallatratt the story of young solicitor Arthur Kipps is being told to an invited audience by a young actor employed by the aging Kipps himself. With only a few props and not a lot of set the tale of Mrs Drablow and her terrible events are told through pure theatre alone. Its nothing short of genius.
The entire audience sits utterly absorbed and engaged making them cry, scream and jump all the better for it! Malcolm James and Matt Connor hold the evening together with a slick and steady control. They drive the piece forward and emote feelings and horror as lavishly and as subtly as each scene dictates. Controlling the tension and the jumps at every turn these men are acting their socks off.
In its tiny West End home at the Fortune Theatre there is an ease of subtlety that is lost slightly out on the road in this touring production. Moments that you don’t notice coming or are only just noticeable in the small space and the gloom at the Fortune are necessarily made bigger for the benefits of larger venues. Some of the ‘jump’ moments don’t appear as well drilled at times presumably because they’re having to work them out in a new venue each week. This looses some of the intensity of the piece and waters down the audience tension a little.
But that is picky. This is still a great piece of theatre that tells a terrific story and is staged and performed with a real theatricality about it that will leave you buzzing and may just make you jump in your seat!