In the programme foreword for The Woman In Black, Gary Futcher writes that modern audiences need more than white sheets and gore to be scared by theatre in 2013.
But Stephen Mallatratt’s hugely successful adaptation of Susan Hill’s 1983 novel promises just that, with a billing as one of the “most chilling theatre events ever staged”.
And from the very opening scene, as ageing solicitor Arthur Kipps begins mumbling his story from the front of the stage, members of the audience at Cardiff’s New Theatre were jumping out of their skins
The first 15 minutes were actually punctuated with laughter, as The Actor tries to coach the shy and reticent Kipps into telling the haunting tale that he has kept secret for so many years.
But as the old man loosens up, their roles reverse and The Actor becomes young Kipps. We follow him to the town of Crythin Gifford to deal with the will of the reclusive Alice Drablow, and the tension starts to build.
Our first glimpse of The Woman In Black is in the shadows, on the fringes of Mrs Drablow’s funeral – a haggard figure in black cape and bonnet.
Her appearance isn’t that frightening, but as the play gathers pace, with young Kipps forced to sort out affairs at Mrs Drablow’s creepy Eel Marsh House, it is the more subtle touches that make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, such as the sound of a rocking chair behind a mysteriously locked door – and the sound of your own beating heart.
The young Kipps finishes his business at Eel Marsh House, and returns to his wife Stella and their young son – only for the play to take one last cruel turn that will give you goosebumps all over again.
It is the smaller, more insidious moments that really thrill here. You are left chilled, and perhaps looking over your shoulder – more than once – on the way home.
The Woman In Black is at the New Theatre, Cardiff until Saturday. The box office number is 029 2087 8889