I also grew up with a very active imagination.
And this house offered everything an old house should offer a young, imaginative lad. Creaky floors, shutters that banged in the wind, attics, a dusty barn, a staircase that nightly offered a perfect view of the darkness downstairs, and the cellar door. In our kitchen was a door that led to a dirt-floored cellar, pitch-black and full of cobwebs. That door stood ever so innocently, belying the terrors that were sure to be found beyond it.
Every evening as I walked past it on my way upstairs, my pace would quicken just a little, lest some thing should jump out and get me. We stored our home-canned fruit down there and nothing was more terrifying for a young lad than to be sent down after a jar of peaches. Down the creaky wooden stairs I would go, stooping under the cobwebs and low wooden beams. I would stand at the bottom of the steps staring straight ahead into the dark little closet with the canned fruit. To my right, the great iron furnace loomed in the darkness, with, I knew, plenty of room beyond for something nasty to lurk. To my left huge wood doors led deeper into the cellar, to places a sensible lad would never go. I knew that if I hurried, I could dash over to the cupboard, flick on the light, grab the peaches, and dash up the stairs before something got me. But if I went too fast I might alert them to my presence and not be able to hear them creep up behind me. For a moment or two I would stand there, peering around into the dark, working up my resolve, and then in a sudden burst of movement, I scurried over to the cupboard, got in, got the peaches, got out and bolted up the stairs, convinced that any second I would feel hands grabbing me from behind, pulling me back. I got to the top, grabbed for the doorknob, and knowing that something was right behind me, managed to get the door open and stumble out into the kitchen, not even stopping to turn off the light as I slammed the door shut.Turning as the door closed I would catch the briefest glimpse of the beyond, certain that I saw a figure slipping back down the stairs, disappointed, to patiently await my return. Grasping the prized peaches I pattered over and delivered them to my mother, who, looking down with gratitude would say, “Oh, we’re going to need two. Can you go get another one?”
I don’t generally like scary things, because, quite simply, they scare me. My imagination gets the better of me whenever contemplating vampires, zombies, ghosts, aliens and the like. While my logic tells me that such things don’t exist, my imagination always asks the simple question, “But what if?”
“What if” is quite a simple question. It represents the unknown. And the unknown is terrifying. That’s what I love about The Woman in Black. It’s a simple play; it doesn’t try very hard to scare you. It doesn’t have to. It simply introduces you to two men working together to deal with a ghost, and then sits back and lets your imagination do all the work. It doesn’t have to scare you with “howlings and shriekings, groanings and scuttlings”, because the truth, as Arthur Kipps tells us, is not so “blood-curdling and becreepered and crude– not so laughable. The truth is quite other, and altogether more terrible.”
And so it is.