We caught up with David Acton and Matthew Spencer to talk about THE WOMAN IN BLACK, here from 22- 27 May. The story follows a lawyer obsessed with a curse that he believes has been cast over him and his family by the spectre of a Woman in Black, engages a sceptical young actor to help him tell his terrifying story and exorcise the fear that grips his soul.
Do you believe in ghosts?
Matthew Spencer: For me, I would say “ghosts? No way…” but I really like to think they’re real. I don’t like being in the stage right wing of the Fortune Theatre, where the Woman In Black plays in London. It’s a little bit cold…
What do you think it is about The Woman In Black that keeps people returning for second, third or even more visits?
David Acton: There’s certainly the chill factor, which people love but there are so many reasons. It’s a brilliant play, it’s extraordinary, and probably cleverer than the writer Stephen Mallatratt had anticipated. What comes out of nothing, an empty theatre arises this beautifully written story with a myriad of different characters and locations all created by the imagination. It’s a touching and moving story with a great sadness about it – there’s loss, shrieks and bumps along the way but there are laughs and pleasure along the way and the theatricality brings all of that together perfectly.
Matthew Spencer: You can see the film and you can read the book but this live experience is something you won’t get from either of those – there’s something magical about the fact that just two people and a few props can create the different settings and play all the characters.
Having played in the small 450 seat Fortune Theatre in London, do you think the dynamic of the play will differ when toured to much larger theatres in the country?
Matthew Spencer: I think each new venue will bring something entirely new to the piece, for us as well as the audience. The show is very much part of the Fortune Theatre now, but taking it out on tour will be interesting to see what more space or less space does.
David Acton: I always say for any actor it’s important to tour, because if you’ve played big, small, wide, tall, thin, deep stages you get a real knowledge for how to work different venues. Whereas horror films are very common, horror plays are almost unheard of.
How difficult is it to recreate the horror on stage that can be done rather easily with a computer in a film?
Matthew Spencer: The play is so well written that a lot of the horror comes right from the text. The start of the play is quite light, it’s an opportunity for us as actors to get the audience on board. By the time we start to build up the tension we’ve hopefully all had a bit of fun, we’re all on the same side and then you can really start to get down to business! It’s so well constructed that I never feel a pressure to make anyone scared, that just happens. I get excited for, because I know what’s coming, and I find that if the audience are laughing loudly at the beginning they’re usually screaming loudly half way through!
Is it fun for you, seeing the audience react?
David Acton: It’s great, the screams are fantastic, particularly when we have school groups in! The book is on the curriculum so it’s quite often that we’d have a school’s matinee and they love to scream and so they scream again, look at each other and scream again!
Matthew Spencer: Equally, it does terrify adults! The reactions are all part of it, and help make it what it is and we live for those moments. It’s great to see the power of live theatre working and having the desired effect.
Is there anything in the production that scares you, as actors?
Matthew Spencer: What scares me more than anything is the theme of the play. I know what’s coming and when so for me it’s about the loss that the story centres around. The first time we ever did a full run-through on stage at the Fortune Theatre was rather scary, I was genuinely scared with all of the sounds and the lights and I think the people who worked on the show enjoyed making the most of that. Now we’re settled into it, I take enjoyment from the audience reactions!
Do you have any post-show rituals that help you to recover from what you’ve just been through?
Matthew Spencer: I’ve mentioned that the structure of the play helps to make the most of the scary moments but in equal parts it helps in a sense that we reach a conclusion. It’s a very rounded play, we’ve told the full circle – there’s nothing hanging or unfinished so we’re quite satisfied when we’re done.
David Acton: I certainly don’t have nightmares but I’ve heard stories from past actors who have had horrible ones!
THE WOMAN IN BLACK is here from Monday 22 – Saturday 27 May 2017. Tickets are available in person at the Box Office, by calling 01902 42 92 12 or online at grandtheatre.co.uk.