There's something mysterious going on at The Basin Theatre. From the elusive tuxedoed doorman who refused to give me his name or pose for a photo, to the creaks and screams coming from the theatre and the ghostly woman wandering the corridors. It's eerie, it's creepy, and it's lots of fun for a night out if you enjoy a theatrical experience.
Set among the misty eucalypts in the Melbourne suburb of The Basin at the foot of the Dandenongs, The Basin Theatre is a venerable veteran of the amateur theatre scene, having been operating for fifty-nine years.
Opening night for 'The Woman in Black' was a wet, drizzly evening, and when you get out to The Basin there is little light pollution so it's pretty dark - perfect ambiance for what was to come.
Once inside, the warm wood-lined interior and soft lighting was very relaxing, and the pre-show refreshments were most welcome on a night like this, with sweet or dry sherry on offer, as well as non-alcoholic alternatives.
The theatre has a long history of staging successful productions
My companion and I wandered around the theatre, checking out the walls full of displays of the many productions that have been staged here. The people who run the theatre and take part in the productions clearly take pride in what they do, and the impressive display of awards that lined one wall demonstrates that they do it well.
The theatre interior itself is designed for an immersive experience. The stage is set at floor level, with the roomy old leather seats rising up in tiers in front of it. As we took our seats, we knew we were in for an entertaining evening.
If you love Gothic horror, you'll enjoy this play, which very effectively leads you into a chilling story of a curse that haunts one of the protagonists, Arthur Kipps.
He is moved to exorcise this curse by telling his tale, which he has bottled up for many years, and he enlists the help of a professional actor. Unfortunately, the results are not quite what either of them expected...
I really can't in good conscience tell you too much about the play without spoiling it, apart from the fact that it's a story within a story. Kipps is retelling an experience from earlier in his life, when he was a junior solicitor dispatched to Crythin Gifford to tie up the affairs of a deceased widow. He gets a hint that something is awry when the locals refuse to talk in any detail about the widow, Mrs Drablow, and her spooky residence, Eel Marsh House.
However, Kipps forges on, basing himself at Eel Marsh House to sort out Mrs Drablow's papers...and that's when things start to get really creepy...
'The Woman in Black' by Susan Hill, published in 1983
The Woman in Black' is a popular play that was written by Stephen Mallatratt, from the book by Susan Hill, and has been performed in London's West End continuously for twenty-five years. In fact, it's the second-longest running play in the history of the West End.
The popularity of the play, set in Victorian England, is testament to its pace and themes. Even those who aren't normally fans of Gothic horror will enjoy the ride. In fact, in 2012 it was made into a film starring Daniel Radcliffe.
Even if you have seen the film, you should see the play as well, to really experience the atmospheric story with almost all your senses (no touching!). Much of it is set on the misty sea marshes of Crythin Gifford, where the sea fogs roll in suddenly and unexpectedly, and strange sounds echo around in the gloom, and in the theatre you literally feel you are there in the mist, lost, with the characters.
The director, Justin Stephens, was very taken with the play and has reimagined the set design to incorporate 'Steampunk' elements of Victorian science-fiction imagery. The set is extremely well thought-out and executed, displaying impressive attention to detail, which really helps the audience feel they are part of the story.
Get carried away with the main characters, into the mists of Crythin Gifford
The actors are wonderful too. Chris McLean and Kieran Tracey are strong performers who effectively carried us through this story. At the beginning of the play, it takes a little time to establish what the main character, Kipps, is trying to do, but the actors never let us wander while this is happening. By the time we are watching the story within the story unfold, we are well and truly with the characters on their journey.
Finally, don't expect to find the name of the actor who plays the eponymous character of the woman in black in the program. It's a conceit that has been maintained over the years, that the woman in black is not acknowledged to maintain the illusion that she doesn't really exist...or does she? Personally, I would have liked to have known about the actor who plays this role, but I suppose 'that's entertainment'.
Meticulous attention to detail in the staging makes for a fantastically evocative experience
As with most amateur theatre, the cast and crew come out to mingle after the play. If you haven't been to an amateur local production before, you should - chatting to the actors, director and crew is a great experience, and they are usually keen to answer questions and hear what you thought about it.
Carparking is a bit limited, so don't get there too late.