Three decades ago, director Robin Herford first staged the Agatha Christie-like ghost story “The Woman in Black” in a British pub — before transferring it to London’s West End for a run that continues to this day. And now the show is returning to its roots, opening Thursday in the wood-paneled bar of Off Broadway’s McKittrick Hotel (where the immersive theatrical experience “Sleep No More” is about to enter its 10th year elsewhere in the sprawling venue).
Though Stephen Mallatratt’s script is based on a 1983 novel by Susan Hill, “The Woman in Black” has the look and feel of a far more vintage story. And there’s something decidedly old-fashioned about the theatricality of the piece, which relies on jump scares and misdirection rather than high-tech gadgetry to achieve its effects.
David Acton and Ben Porter, reprising their roles from London, star as an aging solicitor named Arthur Kipps and the actor Kipps has hired to help him tell the frightening encounter with the mysterious Woman in Black that has haunted him since his 20a. Acton is at first a reluctant actor, but soon takes on multiple roles as the pair re-create Kipps’ journey to settle the estate of a wealthy widow who’s died in a remote and mostly inaccessible home off the coast of England.
The production relies on a minimum of props — a wicker basket is employed as a desk, a bed and a carriage — and the most basic sound and lighting design (by Sebastian Frost and Anshuman Bhatia, respectively). But the intimacy of the space, and Porter’s decision to wander among the audience as he puzzles out the mysteries of the haunted home where he must work, contributes a lot to the piece’s effectiveness.
It’s the theatrical equivalent of a ghost story told around a campfire, this time by professionals rather than your scout troupe leader. And while there are no flashlights, or s’mores, there is booze. Or should I say spirits?