The Woman in Black: Articles

The 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 Susan Hill for her blog to mark the 20th anniversary of The Woman in Black.

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today…

(Answers to where the line comes from on a postcard please.) But the story begins even longer ago. In 1986, I had a letter from a man called Stephen Mallatratt who was working at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, with Alan Ayckbourn.

Because I had happy memoirs of the theatre when it was The Library Theatre and Scarborough being my home town and all, I took his letter slightly more seriously than I might have done otherwise. You see he was asking permission to adapt my ghost novel
The Woman in Black for the stage. Madness. If you have read the book you will know what madness it was - how could you possibly put a house at the end of a causeway, which gets covered at high tide, a pony and trap which vanishes into it, trains, London fogs.... well, you couldn’t. Film possibly, stage no.

But because it was Scarborough and.. well, I said yes and forgot all about it. A year later, a script came through the door. It was a day on which I was heading for London so I threw the package at the SP and suggested he read it if he wanted a laugh. 'That man who wanted to adapt WIB for the theatre has done it and they want to put it on at Christmas in the studio theatre!!!'

When I got home the script was on the kitchen table. 'You,' the SP said, 'had better read that. Because it is absolutely brilliant.'

And so it was. He had done the impossible - used my book without changing much, even used a lot of the actual text of it verbatim, and yet made it entirely itself, a theatrical experience in its own right. I was astounded. I telephoned Stephen to say so.

We agreed that it would run for 3 weeks in the tiny studio theatre as a side-kick to the pantomime in the main house. I went up to see it - I think the studio seated about 80 people - and there on  was the first of many, many occasions I was riveted by the play.

Alan Ayckbourn said there were now two great plays adapted from ghost stories,
The Turn of the Screw .. and this.

We expected it to run for 3 weeks and when there was talk of it transferring to London we were dubious. It’ll never work there' everyone said, and Stephen and I most loudly of all.

The film director Ken Russell agreed - the first run was at the Lyric Hammersmith and they filmed the audience coming out for a late night arts programme, asking some for their immediate reactions. Russell was scathing. He dismissed it out of hand. Wouldn’t last a week. I have always thought what a good omen that turned out to be because the play moved to a couple of other theatres for brief runs before finding its perfect home, The Fortune, alongside the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.

And there it has just entered clocked up 20 years. It also plays round the world. It has been on in Mexico City for 13 years. I saw it in Barcelona in Catalan. It has wowed audiences in Tokyo three times, in India, up and down never fails thanks to Stephens genius.

We used to ring one another up from time to time and have a tremendous laugh about it. Laugh ? We cried with it. 'That little show.... you said it would never work.. 3 weeks max we gave it... that madman who wanted to adapt it..'  We would crack up time after time.

I so wish we could crack up now, as we mark 20 years. I miss those calls. There would surely have been one this week. But Stephen died of an especially dreadful form of leukaemia. I can't call him but I bet he’s raising a heavenly glass and having a laugh. I can hear it.

Here’s to you Stephen. Here’s to us. Here’s to 'our little lady.' Here’s to another 20 years.

Oh, and here’s to Ken Russell too.

Susan Hill, 15 February 2008

"People have drowned on that marsh before now."

Copyright: Susan Hill.