The Woman In Black

Sep 23, 2014
The Woman In Black The pony & trap belonging to Keckwick’s father had lost its way in thick fog and tumbled off Nine Lives Causeway, taking its passengers to their doom in the lethal marshes. Keckwick Snr, the maid and the child Nathaniel were lost. (The horse drowned too – the greater part of the tragedy in my view). 

Anyway, it was the bloodcurdling screams of Nathaniel’s mother as she watched the accident unfold that I remember most vividly; mainly because I all but ended up in the lap of the guy sat next to me after self-ejecting from my own seat in sudden fright. At least I had a soft landing. 

My companion bumped onto the floor after first jumping out of her skin in absolute terror. It could’ve been worse though. One chap was late back from the toilets after the interval and inadvertently bumped into the Woman In Black out in the corridor. Even the actors wondered what was going on when he started screaming.

This was the chaos that ensued during a theatre visit to watch “The Woman In Black”. Just two actors (possibly a third…); a chair; a large clothes basket; a bit of lighting and some sound effects. That’s all it takes to leave you utterly petrified by the end of it.

Such is the effect of watching it I have no shame in admitting that black-clad, haunting harridan has blighted my life ever since 1988 when I first saw the play. The BBC produced a feature-length version in 1989 which, because it stuck rigidly to the story, was even more creepy than the stage-play and had me turning on all the lights round the house for weeks afterwards. However, don’t confuse it with the truly dismal cinematic version from 2012 starring Daniel Radcliffe (of Harry Potter fame). That was a very poor adaptation in comparison, mainly because it deviated too much from the original story. My advice is stick to the stage-play. It comes round on a regular basis and is worth every penny of the ticket price.

People often ask me if I get spooked being around the dead or if I’ve ever actually encountered anything ghostly. The simple answer is “no”. That’s partly my professionalism asserting itself; but it’s also because, being phantom-phobic, I try not to believe in ghosts anyway. However, whilst I’ve never encountered a ghost I must still confess to getting the jitters a few times when I’ve been working alone in our mortuary late at night.

For one thing, living right next door to the funeral home means that when I’m on call it’s always me who’ll be first there at silly o’clock at night to unlock, prepare a berth in the mortuary and get the removal vehicle out the garage. In and of itself none of that would bother me – at least, not if I hadn’t ever seen The Woman In Black. But Susan Hill, author of the book from which the play is adapted, created a story which touched a deep nerve inside me and spawned a persistent focus for all my primeval fears. Put me in a darkened place and round every corner or in every shadow I’ll be expecting The Woman In Black to be there. Ridiculous isn’t it?

I’ve seen many, many things, but only once has my professionalism faltered enough to allow daft, irrational fears to surface. The lady who’d died had done so in a sitting position, propped up in bed with her back to the door. Her husband pointed to the bedroom and said “She’s in there, I’ll leave you to it.” I knew she wasn’t very old and as I entered the room all I could see was a mane of long, dark hair and a pair of shoulders. That was the only time I’ve been nervous of approaching a body, genuinely afraid to step round the side of the bed in case her head suddenly lifted up.

That’s what comes of watching scary stage plays. I really ought to stay clear of the W.I.B. because she doesn’t do my health and temper any good at all. Which is a shame, because I’ve got tickets again for November. It’ll be my third time!

James Baker owns and runs Fred Stevens Funeral Directors of Nailsworth, Glos.

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