Gwynfor Jones is currently starring as ‘The Actor’ in the West End production of The Woman in Black at the Fortune Theatre.
Following the West End premiere of Stephen Mallatratt’s play in 1989, The Woman in Black has celebrated a twenty-five year West End run and has been seen by over 7 million people. The show is described as “one of the most exciting, gripping and successful theatre events ever staged”.
Gwynfor speaks to London Theatre Direct about The Woman in Black’s incredible success, being part of such a small company and what it’s like performing to such diverse audiences night after night…
Do you remember what first attracted you to The Woman in Black?
The fact that it’s a two-hander means you’re on stage for the entire show, other than for a very quick change of jacket! I’m always appreciative of time spent acting, as opposed to doing all the things actors have to do to bring about the possibility of them working. I had seen the show a couple of times before my meeting, and it struck me that there’d be a lot of scope to bring my your own personality and choices to the parts - I think different casts can produce intriguingly varied dynamics to the show. I also thought that they’d be plenty of opportunity for comedy and lightness in the show, which would provide a good contrast to the main thrust of the play.
Is it possible for you to put your finger on the show’s incredible success?
The fact that the director, Robin Herford, directs each new cast helps. He has the fantastic ability of making you feel like you’ve discovered the play for the first time with him in rehearsal room, and so each new cast brings a freshness to it, rather than unthinkingly following the path of however many actors have done it before you. I think its unashamedly lo-tech aesthetic actually becomes more attractive as audiences become more technologically savvy.
The Woman in Black is an incredibly demanding show. Can eight performances a week be draining? How do you like to unwind?
Yes, the show is very tiring and it hasn’t got much less exhausting despite inevitably becoming more comfortable with the show as the run progresses. It’s a difficult balance between maintaining a social life and still going out and doing things which can be energising and recharging your batteries. Watching the cricket has been the best form of relaxation I’ve found so far.
You’re working alongside a very small cast. What’s the atmosphere like backstage at the Fortune Theatre?
Although I hit the jackpot, casting-wise, working with Stuart Fox, it can be a bit lonely sometimes with such a small cast and crew. I do miss the experience of being in a larger company where there’s always a couple of people going out, and there’s a few more people to talk to - or avoid! There’s no Green Room to speak of, and as there are no members of the company who aren’t involved in the show all the time, there’s not much potential for any backstage shenanigans – not that I’m aware of, anyway!
The Woman in Black always provokes a huge reaction from its audience! Do you look forward to performing to completely different audiences each night?
The huge variation in audience responses is what keeps me sane during this long run. I know it sounds cheesy, but no two audiences are ever the same with this show. School groups, usually well-behaved but sometimes not, can be extremely vocal in their reaction, whereas the Friday and Saturday audiences are often a lot quieter (but hopefully no less engaged). You can often hear audience members unintentionally vocalising a thought like, “Oh, God, don’t go in there!” or “Oh. My. God. No!”, and then give an embarrassed chuckle when they realise they’ve made a noise.
The Woman in Black has such wide appeal, how do you think audiences should come away feeling after watching the show?
Hopefully, very scared. But also I think surprised at how such a simple show, with only two actors and very few props and costumes can provoke such a huge emotional response. It’s a slow burning show – one that starts with very little fanfare – but, little by little, draws you in completely to a world where the slightest move or sound will make you jump out of your seat.
Interview by Andrew Tomlins. Photo Credit: Craig Sugden
The Woman in Black tickets are available now, booking at the Fortune Theatre until Saturday 10th January 2015.