Around this time of the year (the spookiest time of the year, oooooh), I am a giant contradiction: I LOVE horror movies but I hate haunted houses.
I think it’s, literally, a matter of perspective. With a horror movie, I’m in a seat, I’m watching what the director wants me to see, if something scares me, it’s in front of me, it can’t touch me, I jump or scream and it’s awesome. But… in a haunted house, the scares come from everywhere and I have a hard time feeling the enjoyment and I’m just worried about what’s coming next from where.
So, when we were invited down to see The Woman In Black, a horror story told in a pub (and the second longest-running play in London after The Mousetrap), I was psyched but also, aptly, a little scared. Would it feel more like a movie, where I could enjoy the terror, or more immersive like a haunted house where I would be lost in the dark?
Honestly, it was the best of both, which means I truly enjoyed every minute of it.
THE WOMAN IN BLACK (WITHOUT SPOILERS)
The McKittrick Hotel welcomes the return of the award-winning production, The Woman in Black, a ghost story in a pub, for a strictly limited engagement.
Dame Susan Hill’s acclaimed ghost story rattles to life inside The Club Car, marking the show’s first return to its original staging inside an intimate English pub. Adapted by Stephen Mallatratt, directed by Robin Herford, and featuring a full cast from London’s West End.
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, engages a skeptical young actor to help him tell his terrifying story and exorcise the fear that grips his soul.
Now, despite, as you know, having lived in London for about five years and also being a horror movie junkie, I’d never actually seen the play or the Daniel Radcliff movie. Why? No idea. Maybe it was all leading up to this.
So we went down last Sunday afternoon to check it out…
THE McKITTRICK HOTEL
The play was taking place in The McKittrick Hotel, home to Sleep No More, the granddaddy of all immersive theater in NYC. The company that runs it, Punchdrunk, does incredible performances all around the world and has been some of the best theatrical performances I’ve ever seen.
The Woman In Black, though, was being done by the London performance of the show and was spectacular.
We entered off the street, waiting in line for the vaccine status, and took a beautiful retro elevator up to the Club Car, their bar and performance space.
Walking in, you feel out of time and out of place, like you’ve stepped backward without understanding how you’ve gotten there. Telephone booths greet you as you come in, the old-fashioned bar stretched from wall to wall, it’s all done with a theatrical flourish that is undeniably cool.
Chairs are lined out and you have an assigned spot ready for you. Grab a drink, sit down, the lights are dimming…
WHAT WAS THE PLAY LIKE?
Again, no spoilers, you’re safe with me.
This is a ghost story through in through, told by only two actors: an older man (played by David Acton) trying to tell the horrifying tale of what happened to him decades earlier and the younger actor (usually played by Ben Porter but our performance featured his understudy, James Evans) helping him tell the story.
The joy of the story is done through the willing suspension of disbelief that is, outright, called attention to from the start of the play. Trunks become carriages pulled along by imaginary horses, sheet-covered furniture stand-in for gravestones, in lesser hands it would be cheesy or outright dull.
Here, however, every little thing helps build the terror, capped off by the performances of the two phenomenal actors, with a hat-tip to David Acton who flawlessly transforms from nervous bookkeeper to gruff carriage driver with a simple hunch and scowl.
There’s nothing that will creep up behind you in this play (thank god), but that doesn’t mean you feel safe. The real joy of this play is done with small elements, like the soundscape of growing screams or the thumping of something thumping in the night. It’s all a lot and I loved it.
Currently, the play is only serving drinks, but a fantastic London pub food menu is coming.
At the press event, we got the chance to sample:
- Scotch Egg
- Pigs in a Blanket
- Stilton Cheese
- Piccalilli (pickled vegetables and mustard)
- Water Crackers
- Bread Twists
And I was so happy. Do you know how long it’s been since I had a Scotch Egg! Forever. Ugh, so happy. They were all super tasty and I was thrilled to check them out. When they’re ready, you’re going to want to snack for sure.
FINAL SCARY THOUGHTS
Halloween is a great time to be sacred, but honestly, there’s never a bad time for a good ghost story.
As mentioned at the start, I wasn’t quite sure how I’d feel about this experience and if it would be too much, but it turns out, it was perfectly terrifying in just the right way. This ghost story was no mere campfire tale, but an immersive horrifying experience. As the two actors told the tale of what happened all those years ago, I felt right there with them, lost in the story, waiting for the next bit of horror and, continually, surprised and delighted when it came.
You don’t need a lot to tell a good ghost story: The right location, the wrong monster, and of course, a narrator who can weave it in a way that pulls you in. But of course, it’s all so much more than the sum of its parts. While the elements of The Woman In Black are sparse, the tale more than makes up for it with that perfect blend of horror and intrigue. When the tale came to an end, that fantastic jittery feeling and the raised goosebumps remained for sure.