REVIEW: Sheffield Lyceum's The Woman in Black will haunt you long after the curtain falls

I've got a thing about veiled, floaty Victorian women- they freak me right out, always have.

By Sophie Wills
Wednesday, 9th October 2019, 2:31 pm
Updated Wednesday, 9th October 2019, 3:31 pm
Sheffield Theatres.
Sheffield Theatres.

My phobia could stem from all the Edgar Allan Poe and Charlotte Brontë I've had my noggin in over the years.

Or, much more likely, it derives from the fateful night that my very cruel grandparents took me to see The Woman in Black for the first time.

I was a boisterous 13-year-old and already a seasoned horror fan by this point, but so paralysed with fright was I after the show that I didn't sleep for about two weeks.

Picture courtesy of Sheffield Theatres.

I've carried that fear with me into adulthood and gone on to see the same production five more times- the sixth being at Sheffield Lyceum this week.

The Woman in Black has become my all-time favourite play, not just because it has me a-shiver in a way that modern horror films don't, but also for its astounding cleverness.

The story follows a lawyer obsessed with a curse that he believes has been cast over him and his family by the spectre of a Woman in Black. He engages a sceptical young actor to help him tell his story- unaware that a second haunting is already afoot.

There are only two people in this sensory play-within-a-play. The set is bare save for a few basic props, and there are no fancy special effects (cast the CGI-laden 2012 film to back of your minds, it doesn't compare- but I'll spare you the tirade).

Sheffield Theatres.

Yet through the power of atmosphere, illusion and imagination, Stephen Mallatratt's stand-out adaptation of Susan Hill's 1983 novel transports the audience from misty London, across even mistier marshland, to Eel Marsh House.

The uninhabited manor, miles away from civilzation, is cut off at certain points of the day and night as the tide rolls in. Oh, and it comes with its own adjoining graveyard- what could possibly go wrong?

This is the way ghost stories are meant to be told- huddled in a crowd around the fire, or indeed the stage of an ornate theatre, probably home to ghosts of its own, on a cold October night.

This chilling supernatural thriller and pre-Halloween treat will haunt you long after the curtain falls (or for 17 years, as it has me).

See it while you can, runs until Saturday, October 12.