The Woman in Black

October is a great month for ghost stories. The leaves change color and then start to fall, bare tree branches stand out against the sky, cloudy weather sets in, the days become shorter and it gets dark earlier – a perfect set for a mysterious, even spooky atmosphere. You just want to either curl up with a scary book or watch a movie with plenty of suspense in it. The Woman in Black, originally a novel by Susan Mill published in 1983, is a great example of a story with spine-tingling thrills of terror that don’t leave you for at least two weeks (speaking from personal experience).

This blog post isn’t about the book, though, which I have yet to read. One Friday evening I was sitting in the audience of the English Theatre of Hamburg with two friends. The lights went out, two actors appeared and the stage adaptation of The Woman in Black began.

I had managed to stay away from spoilers and had only read snippets from a few reviews which all repeated the play was terrifying, chilling, scared audiences everywhere etc. To be honest, for the first half hour I was a bit sceptical and wondered whether I’d manage to get at all absorbed in the story, since there was quite a lot of narration going on. But there was no need to worry.

The moment of transition to the action unfolding, rather than being remembered or talked about, was hard to pinpoint later, and I was on the edge of my seat (at times also shrinking back into it), waiting with everyone else when the woman in black would appear next. This play is also yet another good example of the impact of a well-crafted, well-played wordless role. The story becomes increasingly spooky and atmospheric, using lights and sound to their fullest advantage, coiling tension like a rope. We’re told at the beginning about an audience using their imagination, but I don’t need to. I’m completely drawn in.

What many might remember when seeing the title, and which I did as well, is the 2012 movie adapation with a very telegenic, fresh after Harry Potter Daniel Radcliffe.

Which is scarier? The play or the movie? Or the book? Take your pick. Don’t forget the 1989 film version as well.

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