Actor Antony Eden started his career as one of those cute blond and freckly Milky Bar Kids off the 1980’s TV adverts.
These days he is starring in something far more sinister – persuading audiences around the country about the power of the supernatural.
And it’s working. The Woman In Black – the ever so creepy haunted house story – isn’t for the feint-hearted.
Horror stories are few and far between on stage because it’s notoriously difficult to pull off anything on a par with film special effects.
But Susan Hill’s now iconic story, which has been adapted for the stage by Stephen Mallatratt is an exception.
I met up with its two (living) stars Antony and Julian Forsyth at an early performance to chat about the production. The third member of the cast, the woman of the title, was there in spirit if not in body.
Oh, and a little inside fact, you wouldn’t be wrong if this ghost story gives you the chills – theatres turn down the heating in auditoriums for added effect!
Woman In Black opens with solicitor, Arthur Kipps (Forsyth) visiting a theatre to speak to a man known only as The Actor (Eden), to ask for public speaking lessons. He wants to recite a (true) story to his family but doesn’t have the courage. Through a series of re-enactments, when both men take on the characters within the tale, we learn his terrifying story. This really is the mother of all spine-tinglers.
Antony, 33, who recently appeared in Derren Brown’s Apocalypse TV show, first saw Woman In Black, as a student.
He said: “I just loved it. It blew my mind and then I put it on at school. I wrote to Susan Hill, Stephen and (director) Robin Herford, not knowing anything about the business, and they very kindly gave us permission to do it.
“So this part has been with me a long time! I later went on to do it in the West End and now on tour.
It’s a brilliant play and a fantastic first play to see in a theatre. It’s engaging because it’s scary but also it does what a play should do, in that it is dripping with empathy.
“It’s so much about using your imagination. We obviously can’t create a marsh, a fog and a huge house (unlike the recent film adaptation with Dan Radcliffe in the lead) so the audience have to create it in their own heads.
“It’s an ambitious play to put on stage because of those special effects but some people are completely terrified by it because it just depends on how much imagination you put into it.
“It’s great when the school kids are in because their screams can put minutes on the show! There is just this wall of terror! The atmosphere is fantastic.”
Antony is a real horror film fan so he’s no longer scared by his own play. “I know that an axe murderer or the zombies aren’t going to get me but I like going there in my head. I’m a massive fan of the Alien films.”
Antony began his career as an actor in the 1980s when he was lucky enough to get signed for a three-year-stint, aged just nine, as the Milky Bar Kid.
“I loved it, it was great. I had always wanted to be an actor since I was little and my mum saw an advert in the paper for the Milky Bar Kid.
“I really wanted to go to the audition just to see what it was like.
“It was a big surprise when I got it. I ended up eating an awful lot of Milky Bars!”
Stage and screen veteran Julian Forsyth is a man of many parts – literally – in Woman In Black.
“It’s very challenging, says Julian. “He’s a middle-aged solicitor who has never been in a theatre in his life before and wants to tell a terrible story about what happened to him 30 years ago.
“I have to instantly switch characters. I don’t have the time to go off stage and change make-up and wigs, costumes, and coming back on. It must all be done on stage.
“What’s great fun is playing someone who can’t act! It’s fun to take the audiences to the point where they start to think: ‘How on earth is this going to work? Is he going to be this bad all evening otherwise it’s going to take hours to tell the story?’
“Then there’s a sigh of relief when you switch into being one of the other characters. Then they get it.
“The suspense is very cleverly built up especially in the second half. Sometimes we have to wait for the screaming to die down before continuing with the dialogue.”
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