Stephen Joseph’s secret weapon

Everybody knows the runaway success of The Woman in Black. But few people know this play’s humble origins.

West End: Glamour. Glitz. Big casts. Lavish sets. Celebrity names up in big flashing lights. Uber-expensive special effects. Live music, featuring the songs of Queen/Westlife/Jedward. One thousand Vietnamese children dressed in rags swarm the stage. (The last one has so far only been done in a Litttle Britain sketch, but I’m sure they’re working on it.)

Fringe theatre: No glamour. No glitz. No celebrity names. Little or no set. Tiny cast: talented drama graduates if you’re lucky, pretentious students if you’re not. If it’s a good play, compensate for all of this with good acting, a good script, innovative directing, and careful and cunning use of basic lighting and sound effects.

Stephen Joseph theatre: Where Alan Ayckbourn does his stuff.

These three don’t really have much in common with each other. Or do they? Let’s take The Woman in Black, which I’ve just seen for the second time, this time at Darlington. This play is now in its 21st year at the Fortune Theatre, whilst simultaneously touring the country to packed theatres. Oh, and it’s apparently the 5th longest-running West End show of all time, between Blood Brothers and Cats. In short, this is what every producer dreams of.

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