I took the precaution of taking a bodyguard to this supposed thriller – someone tall, whose broad shoulders I could hide behind. I scare all too easily – but experienced nary a frisson in the course of this rather tame tale, a West End staple (30 years!) derived from a 1983 pseudo-Victorian novel. Barring a couple of blood-curdling screams (roughly the decibel level of the Q train careening toward Canal Street), there’s little to induce a startle reflex.
And yet as a piece of non-Grand-Guignol theatre, Woman has definite merits: the two principal performers, primarily, who are both top-shelf. David Acton (an RSC vet and London WIB regular) is delicious as Mr. Kipps, a timid solicitor who, even in retirement, remains spooked by the memory of a long-ago stint settling a spooky estate in some dreary remote shire. He hires an actor (Ben Porter, intense) to help him dramatize the tale, in hopes of bringing it to life and thereby laying it to rest.
Initially Kipps is the very image of a tongue-tied non-thespian, and the "Actor" a synthesis of all that’s pretentious and annoying in the profession. “Actor” insists that he embody Kipps while Kipps himself takes on all the supporting roles – a task to which the old gent proves surprisingly adept. (Prop specs apparently do make the man.) The murky backstory that they dredge up is almost beside the point, and pretty shopworn to boot. But it’s fun to see these skilled performers unpack all the old tropes.
Born in a bar, this easy-to-transport “trunk play” (an early entry in the tradition that afforded us The 39 Steps et al.) keeps proving its legs, even if the greatest shock of the evening might be the price of “pie & a pint.”