the first time I was happy to give it another look. With the film version having come out this year the story is more familiar than ever (though there are a few differences between stage and screen story) but Stephen Mallatratt's adaptation of Susan Hill's novel gets its scares in a strictly theatrical way that means it keeps its own identity. The current cast is Ken Drury as Kipps, the man with a story he's finally decided to tell after decades of silence; and Adam Best as the young actor he hires to help him present his reminiscences to an audience. The relationship between the two forms the backbone of the play, a surprising amount of the running time dedicated to the older man going from painfully awkward performer to enthusiastic thespian, throwing himself into all the supporting roles. The actor meanwhile plays Kipps' younger self when, as a junior lawyer, he was dispatched to the remote home of a recently-deceased client to sort out her papers, only to discover things that go bump in the night.
On a second viewing the play's maybe not as scary, since you go in knowing what techniques they'll use to make you jump. A different audience may have made a difference too, an inevitably more touristy one tonight not screaming quite as loud or as often as the largely school-party crowd the first time I saw the play. But it's still a lot of fun, and I think has more scares than the film - although in recent years shows like Ghost Stories and the annual Terror portmanteaus have tried to redress the balance, scary plays are a lot rarer than scary movies, and so the visual grammar of the latter is more familiar and will always have to do more to take us by surprise.
The Woman in Black by Stephen Mallatratt, based on the book by Susan Hill, is booking until the 14th of December 2013 at the Fortune Theatre.
Running time: 1 hour 55 minutes including interval.