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 The Woman in Black's author Susan Hill for the Stephen Joseph Theatre's tenth anniversary revival of The Woman in Black.

The Woman in Black: The Author

It seems a lifetime ago that I wrote the ghost story on which the play is based but about a week ago since I travelled up to Scarborough for the first night, in the old studio of the Stephen Joseph Theatre. Coming back to Scarborough is coming home - as the train rolls through Seamer, and into the station, the years roll back. By the time I see the Valley Bridge and walk up onto the Esplanade, I am five years old again! And the old Stephen Joseph Theatre was never really a theatre to me - it was still the Boys' High School. In the year I left Scarborough - which, by chance, was the year Alan Ayckbourn arrived - the Theatre in the Round, as we called it, was still in the upper part of the Library.

So it was with a strange sense of unreality that I walked down the slope towards the theatre on that first night of
The Woman in Black ten years ago, there to meet not only Alan but Stephen Mallatratt for the first time - for we had only corresponded and spoken on the phone, well after he had finished the play, a brilliant adaptation of my novel, in which I had absolutely no hand. I was half expecting dozens of schoolboys in black and red blazers to ooze out of the woodwork!

I had been led to expect the play to run for three weeks in the studio, over the Christmas season of 1987. Since then I have seen it in a great many places, all over this country and with a number of different casts in the West End. It has become international! Robin Herford has directed it in Japanese - which he does not speak, in Tokyo, and Stephen and I saw a most remarkable performance in Barcelona, in Cualau. Neither of us speaks that language either, yet the production was so good, the performances so clear, that we felt as if we did. I have been recommended to see the play by a London taxi driver, whose wife took her hen-night party to it, had an Eton College Fifth former leap onto my knee in fright at one of its more startling moments, and heard a front-row member of the audience shout out a terrified warning to young Arthur Kipps, "Don't go through that door!"

Two moments stand out. The first was when I was backstage at a performance in the Cambridge Arts Theatre. The cast had been told that I was coming but I had slipped round just before curtain-up and not yet met anyone. I was sitting on a stool in the semi-darkness, looking through the spy hole at the audience when there was a tap on my shoulder. I looked round to see - a woman in black, wearing a poke bonnet, a woman with a ghastly, wasted face...

The second occasion brought home to me the true, international success of the play. I was at the International Shakespeare Conference, of which my husband was then President, in a beautiful old garden in Stratford upon Avon one blazing August Day five or six years ago, and I was told that a Japanese lady, a Shakespeare scholar of some repute, wanted to meet me. Usually, the scholars from wherever in the world they have come, wear normal European clothes, but this lady was dressed in the full formal splendour of Japanese costume, all printed silk kimono, with those little sticks through the elaborate construction of her hair. It was a strange and exotic sight in the middle of an English garden. Stranger was to come. She bowed most elaborately, and told me how honoured she was to meet me, which she had asked to do in order to tell me how much she had enjoyed the most excellent play of
The Woman in Black. I assumed she had seen it in London or Tokyo, but she went on to say... "which I have been lucky enough to see in theatre on the Isle of Mull."

Since that first night in cold December in what I must insist was The Roys' High School,
The Woman in Black has indeed travelled far - and is still travelling. Now it's travelled to the Odeon Cinema, where I once sang-along to the organ that rose out of the pit in the stalls, and was terrified by the film of The Ladykillers.

Susan Hill, 1997

"It seems to me Mr Daily, that I have seen whatever ghost haunts Eel Marsh."

Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.