Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

The Woman in Black
Clague Playhouse
Review by Mark Horning

Also see Mark's review of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest


Jeremy Jenkins, Claudia Lillibridge, and Bob Goddard
Photo by Terry Schordock
The only thing more challenging in theater than comedy is suspense. It is here that the cast and crew need to be perfectly in sync in order to slowly build the suspense and terror of the plot to its sudden heart-skipping conclusion. Case in point is the Clague Playhouse production of The Woman in Black adapted by Stephen Mallatratt from a novella by Susan Hill.

This version is not to be confused by the two movies of the same name made in 1989 and 2012 (the latter starring Daniel Radcliffe;) both are adapted from the same book, each film has various plot twists and alternate endings from the original. The play is a more faithful recreation of the original story.

In an old Victorian theatre the elder Arthur Kipps has hired a young actor to help him dramatize a true story that he wishes to perform on stage for friends and family in an effort to banish a specter that has been haunting him since his youth. The tale revolves around the time when, as a young solicitor, Kipps was sent by train to the town of Crythin Gifford to settle the estate of the elderly Mrs. Drablow, who up to her death had lived outside the town in the remote Eel Marsh House. While on the train, Kipps meets local landowner Samuel Daily who gives Arthur some disturbing information on the late widow's family. Once in town he meets with Horatio Jerome who has been hired to assist him.

Spotting the "woman in black" at Mrs. Drablow's funeral, Arthur realizes by Horatio's reaction that the town is harboring a horrible secret. On the job at the manor, sorting through the mountains of paperwork, Kipps once more sees the woman and as a fog rolls in, he hears a horrific accident as a trap and pony go into the marsh with the passengers drowning. He also finds a mysteriously locked room which he later finds open, leading into a perfectly preserved nursery.

Among paperwork Arthur discovers a bundle of letters detailing the tragedy of Mrs. Drablow's pregnant yet unwed sister who was forced to give up the child to her sister's and husband's care, which eventually leads to the boy's tragic demise, the sister's descent into madness, her death, and the hauntings that have plagued the town ever since.

While the 2012 movie starring Daniel Radcliffe is considered one of the finest examples of the horror genre due to its masterful work of textures, sound and atmosphere, the play could be summed up in two words "spooky lite."

The two main characters of Arthur Kipps (Bob Goddard) and the Actor (Jeremy Jenkins), along with the silent Woman in Black (Claudia Lillibridge), do an admirable job. Special mention goes to Bob Goddard, who takes on multiple characters with distinct personalities and accents. Jeremy Jenkins is excellent as the Actor and thankfully does not try to fake a British accent but plays the role straight. The judicial use of sounds effects greatly helps with the visualization of the tale (especially those of the invisible dog) and the lighting is well placed.

The problem lies in the production's lack of creepiness as well as any "gasp" moments. Unlike the film, we never see the dead children, and there is no use of stage fog to set the scenes. It is simply two men acting out a ghost story as "the woman" makes various silent appearances.

While wonderfully crafted and extremely well acted, this production is more an elaborate campfire ghost story narrative than a gripping fright fest. Those who appreciate not having the bejesus scared out of them will love this quaint Gothic tale. It would be suitable for older children and parents as a nice introduction into spooky plays.

The Clague Playhouse production of The Woman in Black will be on stage through October 8, 2017, at 1371 Clague Road, Westlake, OH. Tickets may be purchased online by going to clagueplayhouse.org or by phone by calling 440-331-0403.


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