"I love to be scared, and this story is truly creepy," – Justin Stephens, Director, The Woman In Black.
The Woman In Black started its evolutionary stream as a novel by Susan Hill, was made into a TV film and had a recent incarnation as a movie starring a here-to-fore rather famous Wizard in the role of Arthur Kipps. It was, of course, adapted into a stage play by Stephen Mallatratt in 1987. The Basin Theatre Group are now very pleased to be bringing you director Justin Stephen's vision for the play.
"The show can be truly terrifying to watch, one that you can't look away from, even though you wish you could. It's this kind of Theatre that fascinates me," says Stephens. "Whenever you can rivet someone to their seats and extract an intense emotional reaction it's an amazing experience. If it's comedy or drama…or in this case, horror, I don't mind. I'm most interested in shows that stay with me long after the curtain has fallen."
Stephens first heard about The Woman In Black in 2008 when he was looking at auditioning for something different after performing in Angels In America at Heidelberg Theatre Company. "I was amazed to read that it had been playing in London for over 20 years, one of the longest running shows ever," says Stephens. (It is, in fact, the second longest-running non-musical play in the history of the West End, after The Mousetrap.) "The moment I heard it was essentially a ghost story, I knew I wanted in. From the very first rehearsal I also knew I wanted to direct it. For me this has been a long time coming, and I feel very privileged to be part of it again."
The play does not come without its challenges however. It is, after all, an intricate dance between a cast of two…oh, and, of course the mysterious woman in black. This play is a hard task mistress on both its actors and its director and even though Stephens admits directing can be exhausting in amongst the challenges of juggling a full time job, being a Dad, and balancing a joint interest in theatre with his partner, Rhiannon (Leach), he admits, what makes it enjoyable is doing a show that he really likes. This, however, does not come without some self imposed responsibilities. " I don't make it easy on myself either," Stephens admits. " I've co-designed the set and designed the sound. Even with taking on some extra duties, it takes a team of people to get this thing off the ground. The good folks at The Basin Theatre have been nothing short of astonishing. Their support and dedication is incredible, and they truly love their theatre, treating it almost as their home."
As for the actors, well, Stephens has cast a talented duo and, and in the end, he says, the choice was simple. "Chris McLean and Kieran Tracey are both well known to audiences and also not well known for this type of show. I really enjoy bringing a different side of actors out to their audiences. A good actor is a good actor, and here we have two very talented chaps showing us something quite different. "
Scary – for real- is the aim and Stephens has revealed some new and brilliant ideas ( as well as his philosophy behind them) which are designed to really bring out the scare factor for this very real ghost story. "The show has played a number of times around Melbourne and is reasonably known. However, the traditional Basin Theatre audience may never heard or seen it before. For me, I needed to do it differently as I've seen it many times, and performed in it as well. The play is traditionally set in an old Victorian Theatre. Even with dim lighting, there is something warm and cosy about an empty theatre and I thought that wasn't quite going to create the kind of chill I was looking for. So, the whole show is moved downstairs, into the basement! Once there, we have been able to throw out the wood floors and bring in metal and iron. Replacing fly ropes with industrial pipe work and machinery. The design is obviously steam-punk and putting it in that universe allows us to twist and bend the time and technology. Having adjusted this setting, the next task was to ensure that the scripted scary moments were turned all the way up to 11. Supporting this requires a soundscape that doesn't sound like it's from the Exorcist or a cheesy 80's TV thriller. It has to sound modern scary…but Victorian…if that makes sense…"
Briefly, the main story is concerned with one man's desire to rid himself of a terrifying curse that has had horrific result. In an attempt to exorcise the spirit of the woman in black, he hires a young actor to assist him in telling his tale. The pair traverse eerie marshes, mysterious manors, ancient graveyards and howling winds. It is a magnificent ghost story – a haunting tale of being haunted, if you will.
Be warned, nightmares may very well be a by-product of this eerie piece. Stephens hope so but says: "In our house we have a little ritual after watching a scary movie. If it's truly scary we have to watch a comedy straight after just so we can sleep! Maybe, if The Woman In Black can do a little bit of that to our audience, without scaring them away for good, I'd be happy. Come in groups, it's safer that way…"
The Woman In Black plays at the Basin Theatre from May 17 – June 8