Directed by Mark Kilmurry, written by Susan Hill and Stephen Mallatratt, set and costume by Hugh O’Connor
Based on Susan Hill’s gothic novel of the same name, The Woman in Black is perhaps best known to its audiences from the 2012 film starring Daniel Radcliffe. Ensemble Theatre’s production is a horrifying adaptation of ‘one of the most thrilling and long-running plays in West End history’ that leaves the audience gasping for air. Like its Gothic relatives, this play delves into the darkness of the human mind and the vivid imagination fear brings us.
Mr Kipps (Jamie Oxenbould) enlists the help of an actor (Garth Holcombe) to tell the harrowing story of his experiences at Eel Marsh, an eerie house left behind by the late recluse, Mrs Drablow. The Ensemble Theatre was dressed simply (by Hugh O’Connor) but with important detail, right down to the big brass bell that ushered the audience in from outside to within the world of Eel Marsh and Mr Kipps’ mind. Like the events of the story, the sound design by Michael Waters and lighting by Trudy Dalgleish is unforgettable and well-paced. Most notable was the use of a fabric curtain that became opaque in certain light, allowing a graveyard to be transformed into a disused child’s bedroom while we were distracted by Mr Kipps’ stories.
Nervous laughter and short gasps surrounded me as the story unfolded from every corner of the theatre.
Using only two actors to play Mr Kipps and the various Scots he meets throughout his journey made the play incredibly intimate. Every time he asked someone whether he should go through with his business at Eel Marsh, it felt more ominous when effectively the same person told him yet again to take heed and be wary. Oxenbould’s commitment to even the silliest of moments, bobbing along on a suitcase as if it were a pony and trap, brought a sense of reality that strung us along right until doors slammed in our faces. Holcombe, while sometimes tripping on the dense gothic text, brought a devoted distraughtness to the story as he re-lived it right before our eyes.
The intermission was well-placed, finishing a relatively slow-paced build up and plunging the audience into the horrors of the marsh after their break. Another audience member remarked that they had never seen a scary play and didn’t know what to expect – I couldn’t believe it when I found myself shrieking so loud I had to laugh. Nervous laughter and short gasps surrounded me as the story unfolded from every corner of the theatre. Even the temperature and the dense fog brought us down to the cold marshes with Mr Kipps as he shed tears and shouts for his Stella.
This production was an excellent transformation from novel to theatre, bringing the unique control an actor has in such an intimate space to the fore. We were locked in the room with Mr Kipps and his actor friend as they experienced the horrors a second, a third, a fourth time, and couldn’t escape the tight rope that dragged us along.
The Woman in Black is playing at Kirribilli’s Ensemble Theatre until the 24th July, 2021. Click here for tickets and information.
Writer Susan Hill, Stephen Mallatratt
Director Mark Kilmurry
Assistant Director Rachel Chant
Set & Costume Designer Hugh O’Connor
Lighting Designer Trudy Dalgleish
Sound Designer Michael Waters
Costume Supervisor Margaret Gill
About the Author
Charlotte is a poet, writer and lover of theatre born in Bathurst, raised in Wagga and educated in Wollongong, NSW. Her works have been published in Voiceworks, Baby Teeth Journal, Pine the Zine and The Tertangala. During her school years at Wollongong High School of the Performing Arts, she received the CAT award for ‘Best Youth Actress in a Leading Role in a Play’ for her performance as ‘Meg’ in Away. Other favourite roles she’s played include ‘Ruth’ in The Pirates of Penzance and ‘Beatrice’ in The Servant of Two Masters. Now that she’s almost grown up, Charlotte is an almost-admitted lawyer and would much prefer to write about or for the stage than be on it.