Award winning Director Justin Stephens is about to launch his third encounter with the West End smash hit, The Woman in Black – this time with his own theatre company, RedFox3. It is a terrifying ghost story told in a classic way, and if you like to be scared, then this is the show for you.
The Woman In Black is a 1983 gothic horror novel written by Susan Hill and was adapted for the stage by English playwright Stephen Mallatratt. It is the second longest-running play in the history of the West End, after The Mousetrap. It has been viewed by at least 7 million people, was a highly successful film in 2012 starring Daniel Radcliffe, and it is genuinely terrifying.
Stephens is currently not tiring of his love affair with the spectre that is The Woman in Black and acknowledges that much of its success lies within the threads of its design. “It is a wonderful piece of writing, cleverly structured, and one of the best adapted plays from a book I know of,” he says. “I think I like it the most for it’s ability to only work properly as a live production. It’s different to the book. Different to the film. It can only be enjoyed live in front of you. It has elements of everything I like about good theatre: Great dialogue, drama, comedy, thrills, and the unexpected.”
Mallatratt’s stage play sees Arthur Kipps rehearsing with an actor in order for him to successfully tell his version of events that occurred during the haunting of Eel Marsh House. The play poses many themes, amongst them: revenge, fear, memories of the past and letting go of the past. “I particularly like the main protagonist’s initial desire to understand the world around him, he’s naive and can’t explain away what he is experiencing,” says Stephens. “Later his curse is something he understands all too well and wants to be rid of it. He’s now lost his innocence and wants to simply live in peace and quiet, without nightmares. His desire is for renewal, with the knowledge that things can never be the same again. This is something we can all relate to as we grow older, have good and bad experiences in our own lives. Just as the character exorcises his demons, the audience takes part in flushing out the bad spirits.”
So with a firm grasp on the success of his past three encounters with this ghostly tale, Stephens is ready to launch the newest indie theatre company on the block, Redfox3, in the famous Yarra Valley wine region – a place that he calls home. The company aims to create work that is entertaining, engaging and speaks honestly to audiences.
The question of why Stephens has chosen The Woman In Black to launch his theatre company prompts a simple response: He loves this show. “We’ve had success with it before, and it keeps things simple when you put on a show that you know back to front,” he says. “Also, I know that audiences really enjoy this play and so we hope it works to kick start many more productions.”
The genesis of RedFox3, and the inspiration of the name, has a more ethereal note – much like The Woman herself. “Everybody wants to be different don’t they,” says Stephens. “I had so many theatre names written down that all sounded the same as every other one I’d seen before. I threw them away and started writing down some things that had some meaning to me. Red, is my favourite colour. Always has been. It’s passion, it’s energy, it’s fast. The number 3 has been a life number for me. Things have come in 3 all my life and no matter how I’ve tried to ignored it, it keeps coming back. So it got in there. For a while I was convinced I would have sons, and we were fairly set on Fox being the name of our first born. Two daughters later, I have to use the name. So it’s now in my first born theatre company.”
Stephens’ aim is to become firmly established as a significant name in the Yarra Valley for independent theatre. “We will be involving the community at every opportunity and encouraging young actors and anyone who was to explore the world of theatre to get involved. From time to time we will visit other venues in Melbourne, showcasing the amazing talent hidden away in Yarra Valley.”
As anyone who has started an indie company will tell you, there are challenges involved. “Well, it’s one of those 24/7 jobs and there doesn’t seem to be enough time to do everything,” he says. “We are receiving some amazing support so far, and it is amazing me how much effort is involved to create something from scratch. The most challenging thing is to crack the code of getting audience to see our production. Inspiring folk to get out of their homes and into live theatre will be an ongoing challenge, one we intend to meet head on!”
The play will be staged for a very limited season at the Upper Yarra Arts Centre, Warburton and The Memo, Healesville. According to Stephens, these two venues are top quality spaces with an historical significance to match. “The Memo has been part of the fabric of Healesville since 1924, a war memorial, with an exhibition and conference facilities, and it has had a recent extensive redevelopment, “explains Stephens. “It reopened in 2012 and now has first class facilities, with both venues enjoying the latest theatre technical equipment. I wanted to ensure we were using the venues that regular theatre goers in the Valley are familiar with and because the show is technically challenging we want access to top quality facilities to ensure the most professional production we can mount. Both venues are modern, comfortable and are every bit as good as venues closer to Melbourne.”
So, if you love old fashioned story telling, good drama, and experiencing a real thrill, then you must see this show. The Woman in Black is a wonderful period thriller that has been updated for modern audiences. There is a reason why millions around the world have seen one of the longest running plays of all time! “But don’t come alone,” warns Stephens. For those travelling form further away, this is an amazing opportunity to enjoy the Yarra Valley. Stay the weekend, do some wine tastings, have a great meal, and see some fantastic live theatre.
Multi-award winning director, actor, sound designer, and set designer, Stephens believes strongly in theatre providing great story telling and entertainment. RedFox3’s The Woman in Black guarantees edge if your seat entertainment – let the haunting begin!
The Woman in Black
Upper Yarra Arts Centre, Warburton
SAT 20 AUG – 7.30PM
SUN 21 AUG – 2PM
Address: 3409 Warburton Hwy, Warburton
The Memo, Healesville
SAT 27 AUG – 7.30PM
SUN 4 SEP – 2PM
Address: 235 Maroondah Hwy, Healesville,
Phone: 1300 368 333