Arts & Entertainment

REVIEW: The Woman In Black

Garth Holcombe. Photo: Daniel Boud

Originally written as a novel by English author Susan Hill in 1983, The Woman In Black was adapted for the stage by Stephen Mallatratt in 1987. Once it hit London’s West End in 1989, it was destined to become a hit, turning out to be the second longest-running non-musical play in West End history after The Mousetrap.

Its popularity in the home country must be the reason why the Ensemble decided to produce this very British show, directed by Ensemble’s Mark Kilmurray, for Australia.

In this two-hander, Mr Kipps (played by Jamie Oxenbould) has written a memoir and enlists the services of an actor (Garth Holcombe) to teach him how to present his eerie story dramatically on the stage. His story contains deeply disturbing events from the past.

We find out that in his youth, Kipps travelled as a young solicitor through the boggy marshes to the isolated home called Eel Marsh House belonging to the recently deceased Mrs Drablow. He is sent there to look at her papers prior to determining distribution of her wealth to her inheritors. At the house, he hears strange sounds and terrible screams, and is grateful when the coachman returns to whisk him away.

Adding a touch of theatricality to the stage, Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation hands the role of Kipps to the young actor, thus freeing Mr Kipps to take up the other roles of MrJerome, a local man, and Keckwick, the man with the pony and trap.

Oxenbould and Holcombe are terrific in their roles, bringing to life a subject that one would have thought to be somewhat passé in Australia.

Thanks to Set Designer Hugh O’Connor and Lighting Designer Trudy Dalgleish, with the assistance of Sound Designer Michael Waters, the small stage of the Ensemble is used to maximum effect with minimal props and furniture. A large trunk serves as both desk and crate, while a cemetery with several headstones can be seen through a transparent curtain at the back of the stage.

In this post-COVID, post-lockdown Sydney, audiences are probably looking for a bit of escapist fluff, something to take their minds off the hard times of these last few months. So the little theatre by the harbour has just the thing to cheer you up! You will gasp, you will laugh, you will smile, you will be horrified, and in the end you will feel satisfied by an entertaining and gratifying night at the theatre.

Until Dec 12. Ensemble Theatre, 78 McDougall St, Kirribilli. $38-$79+b.f. Tickets & Info: www.ensemble.com.au

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