The Woman in Black ****

Old-fashioned: a term that has almost become an insult.  With our society’s obsession with the new, we tend to turn our backs on things that feel slightly seasoned, preferring stuff without the slightest hint of age to anything that smacks of so-called ‘freshness’.  We even tout things as ‘brave’, even ‘ground-breaking’, just to prove how ‘new’ something is.  It is to the point that we forget that newness does not guarantee originality, thus many new works are actually more redundant than things we view as ‘old-fashioned’.

So it is with this logic that I call The Woman in Black a great old-fashioned ghost story and mean it as a high compliment.  It is a production that plays by the rules of more classical genres than most of the thrillers released today.  There isn’t a deranged killer, or even a drop of blood, and most of the chills come from atmosphere rather than explicit images.  As with many of the great horror stories, it isn’t what you see but what you don’t see that counts.

The set up is simple: Arthur Kipps wants to speak about an event from his past but doesn’t quite know how to go about it.  He has hired an actor to assist him with his oratory, but the actor instead comes up with the idea of using theatrics to convey the tale.

To say any more would be cheating because, like most good ghost stories, it is the unexpected and the discovery of facts that lead to the more tense moments.  All I will say is that it is a slow burn; most of the first act feels a bit sluggish but the second act is filled with numerous twists and pay-offs.

As for the production values, the performance is filled with strong aspects.  The direction is sharp, with the mounting tension becoming almost unbearable at key moments, and the design is far richer than it first appears.  Actors Robert Demeger, as Kipps, and Peter Bramhill, as the Actor, are effective, having fun yet treating the material with respect.

There are T-shirts for sell that tout the line: I Came, I Saw, I Screamed.  Well, I didn’t scream (though some over-excited teenagers did), but I can confess to over half a dozen genuine jolts, which makes it far more effective than a lot of supposed horror stories.  Don’t let the dust or the beginning frivolous pace fool you: The Woman in Black delivers the goods, making it a great old-fashioned thriller.

Playing at the Kings in Edinburgh until February 20.  Plays in Glasgow later in the year.

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