Review by Carole Di Tosti . . .
Susan Hill’s acclaimed The Woman in Black, adapted by Stephen Mallatratt and directed by Robin Herford, opened at The McKittrick Hotel in January of 2020. At that time it was hailed by Ben Brantley of The New York Times as, “Ingenious!” It was also named a Critic’s Pick, received the Best Play Revival Award from the Off-Broadway Alliance and was nominated for Outstanding Play Revival by the Drama League.
Fortunately, unlike other highly regarded productions that became casualties of the pandemic and closed permanently, The Woman in Black has returned to The McKittrick and is scheduled to open on Sunday, October 24. David Acton and Ben Porter, who received nominations for Distinguished Performance Award by the Drama League, will return to their roles which they kept at the ready in the eighteen-month hiatus before reopening. Acton and Porter had starred in The Woman in Black in London’s West End, also directed by Herford prior to the pandemic, and are comfortable in these characters as they don them once more for this limited New York engagement.
Their ease of character portrayals is obvious during this intriguing and sometimes scary thriller which bills itself as “a ghost story in a pub.” The pub atmosphere is so pervasive that, if it suits your fancy, you may purchase drinks and bring them to your seats during the performance. However, be warned: the alcohol won’t dull your sense of shock and surprise when the (spoiler!) ghost shows up. So, relax and enjoy, but be prepared.
Mallatratt’s adaptation from Hill’s novel further dramatizes the narrative. Mallatratt uses a frame as a device which leads us deeper into the enacted supernatural tale which engages the audience who, in turn, become rapt witnesses. Kipps (the versatile David Acton) enlists the help of The Actor (the talented Ben Porter) so he might exorcise a dark, foreboding true experience that plagues him with nightmares.
In penning the experience, Kipps seems to have augmented its hellishness. Kipps, like the narrator in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” is compelled to actively tell others his bone-chilling story in the hope of achieving peace. The Actor is obliged to help him and thus, Kipps and The Actor (by assuming various parts and narrating the bridge information), enact the spooky experience of the woman in black (hence the title).
Acton portrays a number of characters humorously, morphing his features, stance and behavior before our eyes. He’s mesmerizing. Porter as The Actor (in the meat of the story, is the Lawyer commissioned to settle the estate of a wealthy woman in a small town) is both his lead and guide to reveal the story of the woman in black. Porter’s Actor plays and is played upon, ironically, as he teases out Kipps’ fearful tale and confronts the grave mystery that haunts the weird and dangerous island. It is a haunted place where the locals refuse to speak about terrifying incidents that happened years before.
Acton and Porter mime the locale, characters, buggy ride, dog and much more with humor and authenticity. Their obvious training and background serve them in perfect stead. Shepherded by Herford and assisted by Michael Holt’s stage design, Anshuman Bhatia beautiful lighting design, Sebastian Frost’s sound design and Rod Mead’s original sound design, the revival of The Woman in Black is a production that delights with fright and humor.
This is the perfect show to see in the venue of the quaint McKittrick with its heavy wooden paneling, period audience seating, gorgeous overhead lamp lighting and cool, old-world bar. And the timing pegged to Halloween is another bit of perfection. You will be entertained and spooked as worthy fun.
For tickets and times go to their website https://mckittrickhotel.com/the-club-car/womaninblack/