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A Review by Douglas Kennedy: The Woman in Black. Produced by Woodward Productions.

After a remarkable three decade run in London’s West End, The Woman in Black is back.

Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation of Susan Hill’s 1983 gothic horror novel, The Woman in Black, is living proof of the power of the narrative over the limitations of a small theatrical budget.

Mallatratt and director Robin Herford brought it to a regional theatre with few resources in the English seaside town of Scarborough, back in 1987, and created theatrical history. The premiere was not only a triumph but paved the way to a London West End run, which lasted 33 years, making it second only to The Mousetrap in longevity for a non-musical.

photo credit Justin Nicholas

There were also major international tours, including Australia, and now the spoken two-hander is back with John Waters, reprising the role of Arthur Kipps, and Daniel MacPherson as the Actor.

The production opened the Brisbane leg of its national tour this week and received a much-deserved standing ovation from the packed first night audience. The classic spine-tingling ghost story, dipped in splashes of terror, opens in a Victorian theatre with a slightly comic turn as the ageing solicitor, Kipps, attempts to act out the horror which marked his life 30 years before.

photo credit Justin Nicholas

An actor, whom Kipps has hired, comes onto the sparsely furnished stage and, after some false starts, it’s agreed that the actor play the young Kipps, while the old man presents all the supporting characters. There is another on stage, an anonymous unspoken character, depicting the ghost known as The Woman in Black.

The dark, and ultimately tragic, story opens with London solicitor Kipps being told that elderly reclusive client, Mrs. Drablow, is deceased and he must travel north to her isolated property and sort through her private papers. While the players tell their story against the sparse stage, peppered with minimum props, a sense of gothic misadventure is created with lighting and sound effects.

The tale unfolds in the early 20th century and this world is brought to life with the sights and sounds of steam trains, a horse and buggy and other trappings of a bygone age. The only physical motif being a backdrop of Mrs. Drablow’s period mansion on a site cut off from civilization at high tide.

photo credit Justin Nicholas

Waters as the ageing Kipps, learning the acting craft as he goes, creates a swag of delightful cameos, each giving the audience a distinctive sense of the individual character.

photo credit Justin Nicholas

Meanwhile, Macpherson as the actor plays his part with energy and wit as a cruel and frightening story of doomed characters unfolds.

Eventually the audience sees a heavily covered image of the women, who is wasting away, and learns of the terrible fate which befell her, and the awful legacy left for generations to come.

On one level, The Woman in Black is a simple gothic horror, but it’s also a play which demonstrates the power of storytelling.

There’s another character, maybe element, to the play, and that’s the imagination of the audiences who have witnessed this dramatic offering down the years.

photo credit Justin Nicholas
photo credit Justin Nicholas

The Woman in Black continues in Brisbane until May 11 before heading to Adelaide and then other cities and regional centres before its final curtain of this tour in Sydney in July-August.

Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black adapted by Stephen Mallatratt. Stars John Waters and Daniel MacPherson. Directed by Robin Herford. Photo credit Justin Nicholas. Running time two hours (including interval). Presented by PW Productions, Woodward Productions and Neil Gooding Productions. The Brisbane season at QPAC’s Playhouse Theare runs until May 11. Booking online: Phone: 136 246


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