GhoStory Guru: The Woman in Black—A Ghost Play, adapted by Stephen Mallatratt from the book by Susan Hill

With the recent release of the new film, The Woman in Black has been much talked about. The original Hill is certainly a classic, as it deserves to be. But it’s also a play, and if you love ghost stories and haven’t read it, this piece is certainly worth reading—and owning.

I spent many years in community theatre both as an actress and stagehand, so for me, reading plays isn’t difficult. Reading plays and feeling true emotion while doing it, however, sometimes can be—stage directions in the script can provide a disruption in the flow of the work. Although the descriptive passages spoken by the actors in The Woman in Black certainly do their part in sending chills up the spine, in this case, it’s the stage directions that make this thing scary.

Consider, for example: “Kipps moves inside. A light illuminates the door, and as we look, we see it slowly open. The light is outside the door, but not inside. Kipps approaches in fear and caution, then shines his torch inside. The only light comes from this torch, and we see by it that the rocking chair is in motion—rocking backwards and forwards apparently of its own volition—and it is this that we have heard, echoing on the floor boards. As he shines the torch on it, it rocks less and less until it stops.”[1]

Or this: “Kipps switches on the lights as: The Woman in Black leaves the stage—momentarily glimpsed.”[2]

In addition: as we all know, the sense of sound is very important in a ghost story. What’s nice about reading this play is the sounds you’re supposed to hear are sparingly rendered: “They trot on, the silence broken by nothing but the sound of the pony, and occasional, harsh, weird cries from birds.”[3]; “There is the sound effect of Kipps running, the thud of his footsteps, the panting of his breath.”[4]

The Woman in Black—A Ghost Play succeeds as a straight read because the simply-described desired movements of the actors create an easy image in the reader’s mind—images that will, more than likely, haunt the reader for quite awhile.

The Woman in Black—A Ghost Play (in fact, the edition I own) is available at Amazon here:

[1] Stephen Mallatratt, adapted from the book by Susan Hill, The Woman in Black—A Ghost Play, (New York: Samuel French—London, 1998), 40.

[2] Ibid., 41.

[3] Ibid., 25.

[4] Ibid., 27.

About kristipetersenschoonover

A ghost story writer who still sleeps with the lights on, Kristi Petersen Schoonover’s fiction has appeared in many magazines and anthologies; her traditionally published books include a short story collection, THE SHADOWS BEHIND. She was the recipient of three Norman Mailer Writers Colony Residencies and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College. She serves as co-host of the DARK DISCUSSIONS podcast, as founding editor of the dark literary journal 34 ORCHARD, and is a member of both the New England Horror Writers and the Horror Writers Association. Follow her adventures at

Posted on March 1, 2012, in GhoStory Guru and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: