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The Woman in Black – Interview with Matthew Spencer

Adapted from Susan Hill’s classic book, The Woman in Black at the Fortune Theatre has been thrilling London audiences since 1989.

THE WOMAN IN BLACK. Matthew Spencer 'The Actor'. Photo Tristram Kenton.
THE WOMAN IN BLACK. Matthew Spencer ‘The Actor’. Photo Tristram Kenton.

In The Woman in Black, junior solicitor Arthur Kipps journeys to the funeral of a client, Mrs Alice Drablow where he sees a young woman with a wasted face, dressed all in black, standing in the churchyard. Confused by the villagers’ reluctance to speak of The Woman in Black, Kipps goes to Mrs. Drablow’s former home Eel Marsh House, a building in the middle of a marsh, cut off from the mainland at high tide. While sorting through her papers he finds a box of letters, and ultimately discovers, to his own terrible cost, the dreadful secret of the Woman in Black.

Having terrified over seven million theatregoers across the globe over 30 years, The Woman in Black is now the second longest-running play in London Theatre History.

Matthew Spencer has recently re-joined the cast and reprises his role as The Actor.

Q: You are returning to The Woman in Black at the Fortune Theatre. What is it that keeps drawing you back to this play?

Matthew: It’s a wonderful play with just two of us in it. It’s a brilliant piece of storytelling and as an actor, you really get to flex your muscles and put into practice all those skills you learned at drama school. Robin, the director, who has directed every single cast of this since it was first put on in Scarborough, has a great skill in putting together two people who he thinks will work together well, and let them see how they are going to tell the story. You really do get to have creative input. I’m very lucky to be working with Julian Forsyth at the moment who is a wonderful man and a wonderful actor.

Q: Does playing the role on tour ‘differ’ from playing it in London’s West End?
Matthew: Yes, I would say it does. You definitely get different reactions depending on where you play this. It’s something you can’t really put your finger on. The audiences from day to day in London are also very different. This happens in all plays but in particular, in The Woman in Black, the audience really is another character and so their reactions and the way that they respond really adds another element to the experience. It’s a different beast depending on what audience there is and it’s really fun to see in the first few minutes what connection you’re going to have with the audience. Are they up for it? How many younger people are in? That’s a really fun part of being able to do this.

Q: What can you tell us about ‘The Actor’?
Matthew: So, Arthur Kipps went through this horrible experience 30-years ago and is still wrestling with the demons of it asks me, The Actor, to come and help him tell this story and see if he can get rid of these bad feelings, he still has about these horrible things that happened to him. I play The Actor. He is an actor, and he doesn’t really know what to expect at the beginning. I like to think that The Actor is enthusiastic, a ‘yes’ person, probably ‘yes, and…’! This is a challenge to him, but he revels in it. In some ways, before all these things happened to Arthur Kipps, he was also a ‘yes’ man, so there are similarities between the two of them.

Q: What is it about The Woman in Black that helps maintain its longevity?
Matthew: I think it helps that it’s just two of us in it. I think it helps that it’s a small theatre and the intimacy of that theatre really helps tell such a great ghost story. It’s very cleverly written, the original novel is wonderful and Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation of the novel is so incredibly clever. It reels you in with comedy and humour and slowly enters into the ghost story. It’s so simple, and yet so complex and a real love letter to theatre. The whole building, not just the stage, is the set. There’s something really special about that which keeps audiences coming back.

Q: How do you keep the role ‘fresh’?
Matthew: Playing alongside Julian is really helpful as he is such a wonderful actor and you play about and try some new things within the truth of the story, but it’s really about listening to each other and reacting to what’s happening.

Q: Why should everyone get along to see The Woman in Black?
Matthew: It’s got chills, it’s got thrills, it’s got laughs. It’s a fantastic story, and a wonderful experience to see a play in a theatre, telling a story set in a theatre. We really enjoy it, and I hope audiences do too and continue to do so!

The Woman in Black is at Fortune Theatre.

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  • Neil Cheesman

    First becoming involved in an online theatre business in 2005 and launching londontheatre1.com in September 2013. Neil writes reviews and news articles, and has interviewed over 150 actors and actresses from the West End, Broadway, film, television, and theatre. Follow Neil on Twitter @LondonTheatre1

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