The Woman in Black
Fortune Theatre, London

Stuart Fox on playing Arthur Kipps during The Woman in Black’s 30th year in the West End

The Woman in Black

As the second-longest running play in London (behind The Mousetrap), The Woman in Black is part of the fabric of London theatre. Opening at the Fortune Theatre in 1989, countless theatregoers have been spooked by the ghost story, as a cast of two deliver a masterclass in building suspense and horror on stage. Ahead of The Woman in Black’s 30th anniversary in the West End, we spoke to Stuart Fox who currently plays Arthur Kipps. Reprising his performance for the third time, we discussed what it means to be part of the show’s history, as well as paranormal encounters off-stage.    

When did you first play Arthur Kipps and what was it like stepping into a prestigious role?

“I started rehearsals in 2014 on the same day that my daughter (Phoebe Fox) began rehearsals for the second Woman in Black film, the Angel of Death. The rehearsal process was wonderful, especially working with Robin Herford, who I’ve worked with several times. He commissioned the show in the first place 30 years ago, so he knows the show backwards and he has played the part.

During the week, do you get different reactions depending on those in the audience?

“The reaction from teenagers and all sorts of people who get very frightened and express themselves through screaming and exclaiming statements like ‘oh my god’ and ‘don’t go through that door’ means people may take refuge with their friends. The evening performances have been satisfying and hearing people talk to themselves during the performance shows that audience members are affected by the production.”

You’re going into The Woman in Black for the third time, does your experience in the show change when working alongside different cast members?

“Each time I have performed in The Woman in Black, there has been a different actor playing The Actor. The first time was Winfred Jones, second time Joseph Chance and they were completely and utterly different, which made me have to adapt. Working with Matthew Spencer (who currently plays The Actor) means I have to change my game again. Having done around 650 performances as Arthur Kipps, playing opposite different actors allows me to change and have a renewed interest in the show.”

When working opposite different actors, does the pace change?

“Matthew Spencer is a sharp, young actor. He has done a national tour of The Woman in Black and has played at the Fortune Theatre as The Actor prior to currently starring in the West End. The show has a different pace to the last time I appeared in the show, but this adds to the atmosphere.”

Have you had any mysterious experiences at the Fortune Theatre?

“I have never had anything mysterious at the Fortune, but I have had contact with a ghost while on holiday in Greece. I woke up during the night and my hair was standing on end, there was no light coming in and I looked towards the door and I could see a shimmer of light towards the doorway that came closer to the bed. This human figure leaped right over me, I managed to get the light on it and then it disappeared. I totally believe in the supernatural, which in turn helps my portrayal of Arthur Kipps believe.”

Why do you think that The Woman in Black has stayed in the West End for as long as it has?

“Susan Hill's original ghost story The Woman in Black is wonderful, using words that people say ‘that’s a nice word’, with the eloquent language translating to the stage. The show has an atmospheric feel, audience members enjoy when the lights get dimmer and people are into being scared. The show is unpredictable and there are no big effects; it’s all to do with darkness. It is all to do with what you can’t see rather than what you can see. By having just a couple of actors on stage and creating extra characters, suspense builds to great effect.”

Are there any plans for celebrating The Woman in Black’s 30th anniversary in the West End?

“There will be a 30th-anniversary performance and we hope to invite as many people who have starred in the show previously to attend, but at the moment, there are no other plans confirmed.”

The Woman in Black is at the Fortune Theatre with a current booking period to 28th March 2020.

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