I've seen a lot of shows in the West End, some of them more than once (and some more like five or six times - did someone say Les Mis?). I think it's good to go back for seconds. You tend to see things you didn't notice first time, when you were probably focusing on the story and who all the characters were. And sometimes a change of cast can make it into a whole different show, so you really have no choice but to go and see it again. Right?
But there's one West End production that I don't plan to see again. And that's not because it's bad. In fact it's so good that I still remember it vividly eighteen years later. It's brilliantly staged, faithful to the original novel, and full of surprises. And I never want to see it again.
I first watched The Woman in Black when I had just turned fourteen. We were reading Susan Hill's novel in our English class and surprisingly, someone thought it would be a good idea to take a group of teenage girls to see one of the scariest plays in Theatreland. Even more surprisingly, I was quite looking forward to it, despite being the world's biggest coward.
First of all, if you hear The Woman In Black and think of the Daniel Radcliffe movie, forget it. The original story, on which the play is based, is much simpler and spookier. Arthur Kipps, a young solicitor attending the funeral of an elderly client in a remote English town, finds himself haunted by a terrifying figure all in black. Years later, he tells his story to an actor in an attempt to exorcise the horrors of his past. And then things get quite scary.
Now bear in mind I saw the play more than half my life ago (also quite scary, but that's another story), but here's what I remember - lots of shocks, a rocking chair that will literally haunt me forever, and an ending that nobody saw coming. Oh, and lots of screaming - and that was just the audience. I left the theatre with fingernail marks in both arms, where the friends sitting either side had grabbed me at particularly intense moments.
Of course it's possible that The Woman In Black isn't as scary as I remember. I was there with my school friends, after all, and there's a good chance we were just winding each other up (and probably ruining it for everyone else in the process). But I remember being truly terrified, and from what I've read the production is every bit as terrifying as it was back then. I'm not about to put myself through that again!
But hey, that's just me, and as I mentioned, I'm the world's biggest coward. Now that the evenings are drawing in, grab your The Woman In Black tickets for some perfect Halloween viewing for anyone who likes a spooky story, and who doesn't mind jumping out of their seat every once in a while. On top of that, it is a genuinely great piece of theatre - it wouldn't have lasted over 25 years if it wasn't.
Oh, but if you have a preexisting fear of rocking chairs, you may want to stay away... Don't say I didn't warn you.
By Liz Dyer
Please note: Opinions expressed on the londontheatredirect.com blog are those of the relevant contributors, not of London Theatre Direct Ltd, its owners or staff. London Theatre Direct Ltd is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by contributors.