It’s a ghost story in a pub. Or more specifically, the Club Car at the McKittrick Hotel. The atmosphere of the Club Car is mysterious, old-fashioned, and a little spooky from the moment you enter, even with laughing groups of people waiting at the bar for a pre-show drink. Fog and low lighting set the mood for what will most certainly be a bone-chilling experience.
New York audiences may not be immediately familiar with The Woman in Black, but the play, adapted by playwright Stephen Mallatratt from the 1983 horror novel of the same name by Susan Hill, has had a long career on the West End. In fact, The Woman in Black currently one of the longest running plays on the West End. But this site-specific production at the McKittrick Hotel’s Club Car venue is notable for returning to the roots of the play’s history by staging it in a pub, just as the original production was staged in a pub in Scarborough, UK more than forty years ago.
That pub is the Club Car, a versatile performance venue that offers full-service dining and, of course, drinks. The Club Car has previously been the home to McKittrick offerings such as At the Illusionist’s Table and Speakeasy Magick, but with The Woman in Black, the McKittrick is taking something tried and true (for London audiences, at least) and making it their own.
Mallatratt’s The Woman in Black is a play within a play. Arthur Kipps (David Acton), an older man seemingly struggling with the Gothic novel version of PTSD, has hired a young actor to help him gain the courage and confidence to tell the story of a deeply traumatic event from his past, for the sake of his unwitting family and in order to finally be able to put it behind him. In daily sessions with Mr. Kipps, The Actor (Ben Porter) attacks the assignment with gusto. Played by Ben Porter with unwavering confidence and brimming with an infectious charisma, The Actor slowly begins to embody the younger Mr. Kipps as they run lines. At first it is merely demonstrative, but as they continue into their respective roles (the real Arthur Kipps provides supporting characters), the framing narrative falls away and we are fully immersed in the play-within-the-play.
The production is a simple one: the stage design is minimal, and the stage lighting begins that way as well. But The Actor’s goal from the beginning was to teach Kipps how to perform his narrative in a way that would electrify the audience’s imagination. Some mesmerizing lighting effects, coupled with a very effective track of sound effects, take us halfway there – but Acton and Porter are the ones who will make you believe that you might be in a Gothic setting in northern England. Both actors hail from Britain with an impressive list of credits, and they move fluidly between their many and often contrasting parts. With an impeccable dedication to their roles, Acton and Porter bring to life with alarming vivacity the chill of the mists rapidly moving over an abandoned seaside estate, or the friendliness of a companion dog named Spider.
There is something about the intimate pub setting that makes you feel thrillingly vulnerable, and the low ceilings and close quarters of the Club Car will make this experience one that will have your hair standing on end. With a superb cast, a cozy venue, and the intoxicating ambiance of the McKittrick Hotel, this production of The Woman in Black is not one you will want to miss. And even if you’re not the type to believe in ghosts, you will certainly walk away from this ghost story in a pub with a chill running down your spine.
- Adapted for the stage by Stephen Mallatratt, after the novel by Susan Hill
- Directed by Robin Herford
- Designed by Michael Holt
- Cast includes: David Acton, Ben Porter
- The Club Car at the McKittrick Hotel
- Until 8 March 2020