Directed by James Scott
Honest Puck Theatre
Perform Australia Theatre, Fyshwick to 26 May
Reviewed by Len Power 24 May 2019
Everyone likes a good ghost story. The best ones engage your imagination, giving you a deliciously scary ride without making you feel really unsafe. The stories of M.R. James and ‘The Haunting Of Hill House’ by Shirley Jackson are amongst the best, influencing later genre writers like Stephen King, Peter Straub and Richard Matheson.
Susan Hill’s 1983 novel, ‘The Woman In Black’, set in the 19th century in Victorian England, was a fine addition to the ghost story genre and it’s adaptation as a play by Stephen Mallatratt in 1987 has been amazingly successful. Still running in London, it is now the second longest-running non-musical play in West End history, after ‘The Mousetrap’.
Constructed as a play within a play, the story involves a young solicitor sent to a remote part of England to settle the affairs of a recently deceased woman. While there he has a disturbing encounter with an apparition that has a major impact on his life.
The play has two main speaking characters with a non-speaking performer playing the ghost. James Scott plays the author of the story, Arthur Kipps, and Brendan Kelly is an actor in the framing play. In the play within a play, Kelly plays the younger Arthur Kipps, the solicitor, and Scott plays several characters that Kipps interacts with as the play proceeds.
Scott and Kelly give excellent performances and both actors maintain a strong Victorian sensibility in bearing and language, avoiding melodramatics with realistic playing. Katherine Berry maintains an impressive stillness and presence as the ghost.
Directed by James Scott, the action is carefully paced to suit the period and subject matter. The many costumes by Victoria (Fiona) Hopkins have been thoughtfully designed for the period and for quick changes. The sound design for the show is especially effective. The set needed some additional period design, especially around a door that is important to the plot.
It would have been more chilling to have the ghost appear less substantial and clear, particularly for its first appearances. Like the young solicitor in the play, we should be uncertain of what we saw. To be fair, I have seen the play before, so I knew what to look out for.
Overall, this production is well-acted and directed and creates a strong atmosphere. You can see why it has had such a long run in London.
Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on the Artsound FM 92.7 ‘In the Foyer’ program on Mondays and Wednesdays at 3.30pm.