The Woman in Black: ArticlesThe Articles section includes articles and interviews with the creators of the original production of The Woman in Black - the author Susan Hill, the adaptor, Stephen Mallatratt and the director, Robin Herford - as well as other relevant articles. Click on a link in the box below to access the relevant article.
This article was written by The Woman in Black's director Robin Herford for the Stephen Joseph Theatre's tenth anniversary revival of The Woman in Black in 1997.
The Woman in Black: Directing The Play
The Woman in Black
Among the more luxurious locations visited have been Roddy McDowell's Hollywood home, complete with sub-tropical garden featuring a larger than life statue of my host as Galen from Planet of the Apes. I had been flown from London to Los Angeles to have lunch and read the play with Roddy and then fly straight back to London where I was in rehearsal for another play. A long way to go for a Caesar Salad, especially as, sadly, an extended illness prevented him from ever playing the part.
After twelve separate attempts to mount the show in America, two in Los Angeles, four in New York and four in Chicago, I finally got to do the show in Westport Connecticut in the autumn of '95, a beautiful location on the north-east seaboard, where my digs boasted a delightful swimming pool and the theatre a stage crew made up almost entirely of college students who seemed to spend their whole time asleep in the Green Room and whose numbers diminished daily as they all resumed their studies at their respective colleges. I was terrified there would be no-one left to man the show come opening night so insisted that everyone whispered in the Green Room so as not to dislodge yet another slumbering student.
A more chilling memory from America is of an audition session for a Broadway production, when one of my producers criticised my friendly approach to the actors I was meeting: "You don't have to TALK to them, you know!"
Without question, though, the most exotic spooking location was Tokyo, where the ghost has now walked on three separate occasions.
I had never directed in a foreign language before and apart from the obvious difficulties, there were other surprises to be coped with. The actors turned up for the read-through with their agents and personal managers, who eyed me with extreme suspicion throughout. I feared they would demand I give their clients bigger parts or better scenes to play! Fortunately, I was too preoccupied with turning the pages of my Japanese script at the same time as everyone else in an attempt to demonstrate that I knew where we were to let it bother me.
They were all incredibly kind to me, showering me with enormous gifts on my departure and hosting no fewer than four farewell dinners in my honour, one of which lasted six and a quarter hours and left me quite unable to walk, not as a result of the Sake or any of the extraordinary dishes ingested, but from sitting cross-legged on the floor for that length of time.
Other memories include a strange Purification Ceremony held between the final dress rehearsal and the first performance, involving a Shinto priest and the entire assemble personnel of the Theatre, where during the course of a twenty minute incantation sung by the priest, I was startled by the words 'Rooooobiiin Haaaarfooord - Woomaan in Braaaacckkk' before he dived back into the incomprehensible vernacular.
My memories of Japan are kept alive by a collection of letters and faxes which make up in feeling what they lack in grammatical sense. As well as a fax addressed to Dear Lobin, I particularly treasure a letter from my Stage Manager, which ends: 'Though I'm not sure to you wonder, many Japanese director and English director on Japan works they command or make the disgusting face and words for us. In the future we will meet the many English director. In that case I will remember you and your gentile, friendly and sprendid way on the job of Woman in Black.
I can't wait to go back.
Robin Herford, 1997
"Well, I'm not going to be put out by a ghost or several ghosts Mr Jerome."
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.