For many theatre companies, staging a play can be considered a risk, especially if they are known for their musicals. Simply put, they do not have as wide of an appeal audience-wise as musicals do. However, this risk has paid off for Arcadians Theatre Group and their production of The Woman in Black. Based on the 1982 novel of the same name by acclaimed English novelist Susan Hill DBE, and adapted for the stage by Stephen Mallatratt, The Woman in Black tells the story of Arthur Kipps, an elderly man who has hired a young actor to help him tell the story of his encounter with a malevolent spirit in the Northern English town of Crythin Gifford. The text of this play is phenomenal, no wonder it had a 13,000-performance West End run. Whilst it promotes itself as a two-hander, The Woman in Black truly involves a cast of 4.
As the Actor, Arne Castles does a superb job. The immense amount of text required of this character would be challenging for any actor, the fact that Castles was able to take this on whilst in his senior year of high school is to be commended. His commitment to the role of a man paid to portray his employer's descent into a living nightmare shows a skill beyond his years that I only hope continues to grow into the future. A highlight for me was his interactions with the dog “Spider”. I’ve never cared for an invisible dog more, and that is thanks to the endowment Castles gives her.
On opening night, it was announced that due to unforeseen circumstances, the role of Kipps Snr (and others) would be played by the show's director, Malcolm White. Whilst I was excited to see Greg Shand take on this role; given his extensive CV, White gives a solid performance. He embodies the many roles required of this character with great aptitude, with all of them being distinct from one another. His performance demonstrates a clear love of the show that extends into his staging and direction. I can only imagine how cathartic it must have been, whilst preferring to direct, to bring his own interpretation of these characters to life.
The titular character is played by Melanie Ring. On her first entrance, she appears menacingly in the audience as an ill omen of the horrors to come. The costuming; by Nyla Collis, is to be applauded here, as she has provided this character with both a shape and look that articulates her sole purpose, to terrify and haunt those who see her. Ring does well with what the text offers her and makes dynamic choices that are to be commended, demonstrating a chilling commitment to the role that delivers a spookily unsettling performance.
David Greer as the Lighting and Sound Operator, is the show's unsung 4th player. As referenced in the play, the lighting and sound help to bring Kipp’s story to life. My only note here would be that at times there were too many blackouts. When a show is a play within a play, the set-up of these scenes is just as integral to the storytelling as the written text, plus, with actors being as well rehearsed as they were, this choreography is enjoyable to watch and sometimes a shame to miss. However, when it comes to the lit moments, Greer does not miss a beat, with the lighting designs clearly articulating the world of the play and the world of the rehearsal and sound design that not only populates the world but also sends chills down your spine.
The properties, set construction and design, by Marie Mitchell-Stanlley, Monday Maintenance Men and Woolongong Tafe Students respectively, add the finishing touches to The Women in Black. The use of simple set pieces and props initially, leads to the elaborate reveal of what is inside the locked room. The juxtaposition between these two spaces helps to convey the tale of a world that was once full of youthful joy, that has since been decimated by a spectre's lust for revenge and causing misery to those who encounter her.
The play does not end where Hill’s book does. Like all great adaptations, Mallatratt elevates the original text adding one final horrifying twist for Kipps Senior and the young actor. A note here would be that for those who are not familiar with the text, this was slightly confusing, with many patrons asking what happened. Whilst this could have been clearer, it does not diminish the work of those involved in the show.
Overall, Arcadians Theatre Groups' production of The Woman in Black was an immensely enjoyable watch that I hope many people get to experience. Congratulations to all those involved.