Stephen Mallatratt’s stripped back adaptation of Susan Hill’s novella, once again tours the UK, stopping at The Alhambra where Leo Owen caught the show

Over 35 years after its inception, the play now attracts fans of the 2012 film starring Daniel Radcliffe. The stage show is likely, however, to disappoint this crowd, lacking the big budget special effects and witling the action down to a cast of two.

When originally commissioned to write the piece, the budget was tight and Mallatratt relished the challenge, cleverly adding another dimension to Hill’s story. His tale extends the protagonist’s approach to tackling his PTSD. Claiming he “cannot carry the burden any longer”, Arthur Kipps (Malcolm James) hires an actor (Mark Hawkins) to train him to read his account in a more palatable way. After a deliberately dreary opening as Kipps mumbles into a manuscript, the cast switch roles with Hawkins taking James’ role, providing some light relief as they pause to assess performances.

Mallatratt stripping back atmospheric descriptions from the narration, allows Michael Holt’s simple but ingenious design to weave its magic. What initially appears to be a very basic set of discoloured dust sheets, a coat rail, large wicker basket and chair, gradually peels back layers to reveal hidden surprises. Coupled with Kevin Sleep’s shadowy light design and Sebastian Frost’s careful audio, combining thumping sound effects with voice-over and full bustling London soundscapes, Mallatratt creates plenty of unnerving moments. The second act almost entirely being performed by candle light certainly pushes an already jumpy audience to the edge.

It’s no wonder The Woman in Black is the second longest-running non-musical play in West End history. After all this time, it’s a testament to Mallatratt’s skilful economical writing style – a true theatrical legacy. Harnessing the power of imagination, it still has audiences gasping and jumping.

The Woman in Black showed at The Alhambra 20th -24th February before continuing its tour: