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A good ghost story
Unlike today's fast paced story telling, The Woman in Black begins by carefully setting up the two actor play within a play. Mr. Kipps (Chris McLean) has lived his life with the memory of horrors from his early 20s that haunt him at night. Believing that by telling his story he may be purged of his nightmares, he hires an actor (Kieran Tracey) to help him tell his story with the hope of freeing himself from his dark burden. The actor convinces Mr. Kipps to perform with him.
Once Mr. Kipps finally agrees, the play picks up pace.
As a young man, Mr. Kipps is sent to a small village to settle the deceased estate of Alice Drablow. Her isolated house is on the marshes, some distance from the village and can only be accessed at low tide. What is meant to be a routine task becomes a chilling chain of events, after the young Mr. Kipps sees The Woman in Black.
Upon questioning the locals, Mr. Kipps discovers that everyone behaves strangely when he mentions seeing her and they are reluctant to speak of her.
We meet the characters of the sad and terrified village through Chris McLean's powerful acting. He deftly transforms from one village character to another and back to the old Mr. Kipps. His changing performances provide brief moments of comic relief to the already tense audience. As the fear builds minute by minute the actor/young Mr. Kipps (Kieran Tracey) becomes increasingly uneasy as he finds out more about The Woman in Black. The audience is by now on the edge of their seat, in fact, one audience member nearly jumped out of her seat. The ghost's eerie appearances shock the audience who gasp and almost scream out with the young Mr. Kipps, who now believes in ghosts.
The young Mr. Kipps decides to stay in the house overnight to sort through the mountains of papers so he can quickly settle Alice Drablow's estate and leave as soon as possible. With relief, he accepts when a villager offers his dog to keep him company at the house. You can feel the audience relax, watching young Mr. Kipps meet and play with the dog. This scene also elicits some short-lived chuckles from the audience.
Going through Alice Drablow's papers the young Mr. Kipps discovers information, which reveals the connection between her and The Woman in Black. He puts together the gruesome story of a heartbroken, emotionally tortured woman whose wraith portends death.
There are more unexplained noises and we feel his ever increasing fear as he investigates the house, to discover that now, inexplicably, he has access to the locked room. He enters, finding a moving rocking chair with no one in it and the room's curious contents.
The Woman in Black appears again and the young Mr. Kipps is utterly spooked and becomes frantic. The dog runs off.
He finally manages to finish his work and leave the village, thinking that is the end of it.
The play's chilling end leaves you wishing that the lights be turned on - quickly.
Warburton Arts Centre
With just two actors, this play's clever combination of narration, story telling, sound effects and lighting provides a unique theatre experience. As well as the stage, the foreground, stairs and doors become part of the set, making the audience feel very close to the events as they unfold. Eerie sounds, screams and thumps come from all directions. The audience feels the fear and terror with young Mr. Kipps. They are almost palpable.
The simple props are expertly arranged between each scene by the actors and stage crew. The combined sound, lighting and effects tap into one's childhood experiences of camp fire ghost stories and seances that grip your body and have you glancing in the shadows.
The Woman in Black is a play written by Stephen Mallatratt, adapted from the novel of the same name by Susan Hill. It has been running in London's West End since 1989 and is still being performed there. This world famous play has been brought to The Memo by Director Justin Stephens and Redfox3 Theatre Company.
Book tickets here to see The Woman in Black in Healesville on Saturday 27 August at 7.30pm and Sunday 4 September at 2pm. $28 Full, $24 Concession, $20 Group 6 . (The season at Warburton is now over)