If you like a good, scary ghost story, “The Woman in Black” will give you goose bumps.
Complete with a mysterious mansion, eerie marshes, sudden fogs, an old graveyard, quicksand, a skeletal ghost, moaning winds and things that go bump in the night, the well-told story comes to a chilling end. All of this transpires in a two-person play with a minimal set.
The actors, Emma Duncan and Corbin Went, are home in Cambria for the summer after a year studying at the British American Drama Academy in London. They saw this play in England and liked it so well they saw it again, and decided to share it with Central Coast audiences.
The acting is very good. Duncan and Went have honed their British accents while in London and are smoothly professional. Duncan is remembered for her fine one-woman show about poet Emily Dickinson at the Pewter Plough. Went has also been a Plough actor. Both have impressive credits in New York and London, where they studied.
Charles Duncan, Emma’s father, directs “The Woman in Black.” The story has been adapted by Stephen Mallatratt from the novel by Susan Hill.
The play opens in a small Victorian theater, where Arthur Kipps, a solicitor with a terrifying tale to tell, is consulting The Actor, who is coaching him to be able to tell his story to family and friends in the hope that the telling will help him to exorcize the experience, which had tragic personal consequences.
The story is told on two different planes, the present and the past. Went is Mr. Kipps in the present, and Duncan is The Actor. But as Kipps relates his past experiences, Duncan, as The Actor, assumes the role of Kipps, and Went takes on the roles of people Kipps deals with during his frightening tale. With a snap of Duncan’s fingers, the scenes shift from past to present and back.
The theatricality of this device is complemented by the creative use of the set and by sound effects such as a trotting pony, a dog and a train, and even a few special effects. The main props are a mysterious old locked door and a large trunk, which serves as a desk, a pony cart and a bed. At pivotal moments lights glow behind a scrim, revealing spooky scenes. The production is designed by Jim Buckley, and Art Van Rhyn is set builder.
As the story unfolds, Mr. Kipps has been assigned to travel to the house at Eel Marsh, where a client, a mysterious widow, has died. He is to go through her papers and report to his boss. The house is across a foggy causeway that is passable only at low tide.
When the house at Eel Marsh is mentioned people close up, change the subject, or leave the room, and no one will accompany him to the house. A reticent fellow agrees to take him to the house by pony cart. And then the spooky events begin. It’s a gripping story, and as the final scene shifts back to the Victorian present, truly haunting.
Duncan and Went are both students at Sarah Lawrence College in New York. Duncan will graduate next spring and expects to work in New York until Went, her fiancé, graduates. They plan to marry and return to London, a place they already miss, they said.