Autumn, with its cold breeze, colorful leaves and gray skies, evokes an eerie atmosphere, suitably macabre, the promise of the Valentine Theatre’s production of The Woman in Black. Directed by theater veteran Elizabeth Cottle and presented in the intimate space of Studio A, aptly referred to as the black box, the performance invites theater enthusiasts to journey into a Gothic nightmare.
At the turn of the 20th century, while attending to the estate of a recently deceased widow, a young solicitor named Kipps experienced something so terrible it haunted him for years. Unable to forget, he decides the only way to absolve himself of this curse is to tell his story. Kipps writes a play and hires an actor to portray his younger self, allowing him to give voice to his harbored horror, a tale so chilling only the theater can do it justice.
This Stage an Island
Written by playwright Susan Hill, adapted to the stage by Stephen Mallatratt, and produced as a movie starring Daniel Radcliffe, The Woman in Black is one of London’s West End Theatre’s longest-running plays, having shown consistently every year since 1989. It’s performed with a very small cast, one of whom plays multiple roles, and a minimalist set, relying on dialogue, tone, and, suspense, to portray both the Victorian setting, and the unsettling nature of the narrative.
Returning for her fifth production as director in Studio A, Cottle says the small space is a perfect for this type of show. “I like playing off people’s senses. In an intimate space you have that capacity more so than in a larger auditorium. It’s a small space and we utilize all of it. It’s also technically well-equipped. Creating the mood with the text, lighting, and sound are the big things we’re focusing on,” she says.
Cottle also utilizes those conditions to heighten the ability of her performers, saying, “I tend to pick shows that have smaller casts. I like scripts that are going to challenge my actors.” The Woman in Black is many things, she says. “It’s a thoughtful, and frightening play. There are a lot of hauntingly beautiful elements that are also isolating. More than anything, the story is intended to be terrifying. [Mallatratt] wrote it to be scary.”
Chasing dark shadows
Patrick Boyer, who plays the role of Kipps, the haunted man attempting to tell his story, says he hopes the audience “should be very unsettled. If they go out with the hair standing up on their necks, then we’ve done our jobs.”
Christopher Stack, playing the role of Kipps’ hired actor, states, “I want them to be creeped out. I feel like there’s going to be a really cool sense of dread and energy in the room.”
As for Studio A: “The audience gets to see all the facial motions, all the sweat. You feel like you’re really part of the show,” says Stack.
November 3-5, 10-12, 2017
Valentine Theatre Studio A
410 Adams St. | 419-242-ARTS (2787)