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The Woman in Black


The Woman in Black

Author: Susan Hill

Playwright: Stephen Mallatratt

Director: Mark Kilmurry

Photos: Daniel Boud

Ensemble Theatre until July 24

Reviewed by Ron Lee, CSP



The Esemble Theatre

The time period is around 1916 in London, and Arthur Kipps is desperate for a catharsis. He consults a young actor to teach him how to relate his tragic story to a small group of relatives and friends. The two men work through the manuscript in an otherwise empty Victorian theatre.


Arthur is frustrated that his progress is slow. The actor understands, and to show Arthur how to do it, he enacts Arthur’s story.


The elderly and reclusive widow, Alice Drablow has died, and as a young lawyer, Arthur travels to Eel Marsh House in the town of Crythin Gifford on the north-east coast of England to finalise her estate. Arthur wonders why the townspeople are reluctant to talk about about the incidents that surrounded Mrs Drablow’s life, especially the early deaths of her younger sister, Jennet Humfrye and Jennet’s illegitimate son whom Mrs Drablow and her husband adopted. Since those deaths, the appearances of a young, gaunt and ghostly woman dressed in black presaged other deaths.


The Ensemble Theatre production is excellent, with Jamie Oxenbould as Arthur and Garth Holcombe as the Actor turning in superbly haunting performances. This was the first time I’d seen Holcombe who switched in and out of the Method, and he engaged at the critical times to maximum effect. Oxenbould, who is approaching the veteran class, always brings it to any role he plays. He can always be depended upon for an excellent, whole-hearted performance and he does pathos better than just about any other actor. In a two-hander it isn’t easy to entirely absorb the character for two hours with only brief moments off-stage, so this play would be a challenge for any actor.


Ensemble Theatre Sydney

Director Mark Kilmurry has ensured that the necessary timing in the Gothic horror is spot-on. On opening night, the atmosphere and eerie sound effects caused some audience members to jump in their seats. I experienced spine shivers every time the hooded woman suddenly appeared in the second act.


Not sure why there was an obvious nod to A Streetcar Named Desire. Was it directorial, or was it part of the original novel and/or stage adaptation?


The two late plot twists and the unstated, pre-emptive finality to the play provides the perfect ending.


Sydney Theatre Reviews

The Woman in Black is the second-longest, continually-running non-musical production (32 years) in London’s West End to Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap which opened in 1952.


The Ensemble version of The Woman in Black is one of the best mystery/thrillers I’ve seen anywhere in that genre, and it’s worth putting at the top of your theatrical do-do list.


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