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Woman in Black: A Ghost Story in a Pub
I did not believe in ghosts. — Actor
What other explanation is there? — Kipps
David Acton and Ben Porter (Photo credit: Jenny Anderson)
One could easily surmise that this adaptation by Stephen Mallatratt of Susan Hill's novel has been a lot more than a London hit where it is now in its thirtieth year. Since then forty- one countries have seen productions of it including the USA where, among many regional theater productions over the years it had a brief Off Broadway run in 2001. A British TV version in 1989 and a film starring Daniel Radcliffe released in 2012 were critical and commercial successes. The point I'm making is that Woman in Black tends to be an audience pleaser, particularly for those who like a play calculated to make chills run up and down their spine.

Down the hatch with a pint is highly recommended now that Woman in Black has been ensconced in the Pub at the McKittrick Hotel. . .the Chelsea landmark venue where another immersive chiller the Macbeth -isized hit Sleep No More has been occupying the floors and all the rooms (save the pub) for the past nine years. I can't say for sure but I suspect that ghosts have now full occupancy of the venue.

My companion and I enjoyed a very fine pre-show optional and traditional English Pub dinner which is served next to the larger pub space in what resembles a posh dining car on the Orient Express. No murders, however, are allowed here. Drinks purchased at the large bar in the pub can be taken to your less than comfy wooden seats whose purpose I presume is to keep you sitting on the edge for the entire performance.

The staging of the play is simple but brilliantly effective under the guidance of original London director Robin Herford. The story begins in a theater and on its stage where as a very patient actor (Ben Porter) attempts to give some theatrical advice to Arthur Kipps (David Acton) an aging solicitor who thinks he can just read a lengthy tome he has written to family members. The text reveals his fearsome discoveries while he was finalizing the estate of the late Mrs. Alice Drablow in her now unoccupied manor house in the north of England.

Realizing that Kipps will put his audience to sleep if he just reads the actor helps his story into play form with additional special effects to be supplied by the theater's technical crew. What happens next is that we watch as the actor assumes the role of Kipps while Kipps becomes all the other characters as needed. We are gradually introduced to the mostly inhospitable characters in the town with whom Kipps must deal as he attempts get to the bottom of the town residents' hostility and find the documents he needs at the eerie house that is unreachable during high tide.

Unnerved by the many strange sounds, a rocking chair that rocks with no one in it, a locked room that sometimes isn't, and the sight of a woman dressed in black who appears and disappears in the mist, Kipps is undeterred to finish his work and also get answers to the increasing number of strange goings on. The shocks and scares come mostly in the dark and with just enough surprise to keep the tension high.

Kipps experiences become more and more horrific even as our two terrific actors keep up with the task of exiting a scene even as another character enters... and on occasion venturing out into the audience. Multiple role playing is certainly not a new gimmick for actors but is a time honored one that serves this spare but cleverly designed production. The excellent lighting designed by Anshuman Bhatia is a major contributor. The audience on the night I attended appeared totally committed to the ghostly, nightmarish doings and in expectation of no more than the ability of Acton and Porter to create credible characters and empower the ensuing horrors. They did.

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Woman in Black: A Ghost Story in a Pub Adapted by Stephen Mallatratt Directed by Robin Herford
Cast: David Acton (Kipps and others) Ben Porter (Actor and Young Kipps)
Designer: Michael Holt
Lighting Designer: Anshuman Bhatia
Sound Designer: Sebastian Frost
:PSM: Carolyn Boyd
Running Time: 2 hours including intermission
McKittrick Hotel, 530 W. 27th Street
From 01/08/20
Opened 01/23/20 Ends 03/08/20
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 02/01/20
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