People love to experience roller coasters and other carnival rides first hand. Another long – time overseas pastime, Halloween (and all of its quirky trappings) has developed an intense cult following in Australia amongst children, teenagers and adults alike.
Perhaps being terrified in a controlled setting, is the ultimate rush.
Which goes a long way to explain why horror stories from ‘The Turn of the Screw’ by Henry James (and later filmed as ‘The Innocents’ in 1961) to the ‘Paranormal Activity’ blockbuster motion picture series, hold particular fascination with thrill – seekers across the globe.
One ghostly tale to perpetuate the Gothic genre, ’The Woman in Black’ is celebrating twenty – seven record breaking years in Great Britain. Since premiering in 1989, the play is the second longest – running, non – musical (after ‘The Mousetrap’ by Agatha Christie) in West End theatre history.
To date, more than seven million people have seen the stage show. It should be noted that its current booking at the Fortune Theatre in London has been extended to September 2017.
Best known for his television work on ‘Coronation Street’ and ‘The Forsythe Saga’, the late Stephen Mallatratt (1947 – 2004) was an actor, screenwriter, and playwright.
In 1987, he adapted ‘The Woman in Black’ from a best – selling novella released four years earlier by Susan Hill. Though the story’s eerie mood essentially remains the same, Mallatratt’s treatment gives his two – hander significantly extra meta – dimension by turning the piece into a play within a play.
Later, a popular movie made for British television was broadcast in 1989, and in 2012, Danielle Radcliffe headlined a profitable cinema release produced by the legendary Hammer House of Horror.
The ‘Woman in Black’ captures the mysterious tragedy of a junior solicitor called Arthur Kipps.
Assigned to manage the estate of his client, Mrs Alice Drablow, he travels to a remote English county and pays his last respects. Whilst attending her funeral, Kipps spots a mysterious young woman standing alone in the churchyard.
Fascinated by this presence, he is struck by the townsfolk’s unified resistance to talk about her. Immediately determined to gather as many snippets of information as he can about the apparition, Kipps’ obsession leads him directly to Mrs Drablow’s former home.
Eel Marsh House is a crumbling mansion positioned on deserted marshland. At high tide, the residence also becomes disconnected from the village.
Whilst tying up loose paperwork, Kipps discovers a box of letters. This find leads him to the shocking truth about The Woman in Black, and ultimately, to the fate of his own future.
Redfox3 is a new Melbourne theatre company located in the famous Yarra Valley wine region.
Passionate and high energy, Justin Stephens is the group’s founding member and award – winning artistic director. One of his philosophies is to combine traditional and new theatre technology. ‘The Woman in Black’ is the perfect choice to put these elements into action.
Following a successful run three years ago, the revival played at the Alex Theatre in St. Kilda as part of a recent return season.
Similar to hit shows like Stage Art’s ‘Titanic: The Musical’ and Mockingbird Theatre’s ‘Quills’, the company elevates traditional stagecraft to an art form dripping with atmosphere.
This production goes all out in creating an original, dark and sinister mood. Legitimate tension was immediately established and maintained throughout the play’s two hour running time.
For example, as the audience entered the space to take their seats prior to the play’s start, the auditorium had been soaked in thick shadows and fog. Further, the technical crew must be thanked for their subtle yet tricky lighting and sound cues, used at key moments to maximum effect.
The single set is very much reminiscent of Victorian dour, but with a steam punk sensibility added for good measure. Without giving too much of the story away, its smart construction allowed for genuine moments of terror and surprise. There was a real sense of how did the company achieve certain moments, too.
Chris McLean (as The Actor) and Kieren Tracy (as Kipps) play off each other with immersive conviction, solid pacing and intelligence. Given the tale’s multi – layered and dialogue – driven format, Stephens allows the pair many shared and individual moments to shine.
Several production choices are especially noteworthy. Such as, simple props and mime to simulate a horse – drawn carriage and later, an eager and mischievous pet dog.
Maintaining and building the story’s flow, McLean and Tracy draw viewers into the tale full force. In doing so, the surprise payoff at the play’s conclusion is tremendously satisfying.
Finally, effective period costumes help to delineate both characters. The first appearance of The Woman in Black is especially gripping, as she almost appears from nowhere.
Hats off to all involved for a memorable experience.