This adaptation of Susan Hill's eerie tale is no less effective either as theatre or as a ghost story than it was on its arrival in the West End in 1988.
One of the firmer but less well known West End fixtures, this two-hander's success is due to an elegant simplicity. Adaptor Stephen Mallatratt and director Robin Herford knew that they could not hope directly to reproduce on stage the moors and marshes of Susan Hill's story, so they set the tale instead in an empty theatre, in which an unnamed Actor is coaching narrator Arthur Kipps in how to recount his terrifying experiences, in the vain hope of finally exorcising them. The two men slip between characterisations as easily as between costumes, with almost their only prop being a stage trunk, until the mysterious house itself is reached.
As Alfred Hitchcock noted, suspense and atmosphere are more potent than scary events themselves. Here, we are never entirely sure whether the terrors suffered by Kipps are all in the mind, until the closing minutes, and the beautifully understated final twist. Even the largely teenage audience at the performance I saw found themselves gripped.
Written for divento.com
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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