The Woman in Black

May 26, 2024 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | THEATRE, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS | 0 Comments |

Adelaide Festival Theatre, Dunstan Playhouse, 24 May 2024

The Woman in Black is an adaptation of Susan Hill’s 1983 Gothic novel, by Stephen Mallatratt, concerning a mysterious spectre that haunts Eel Marsh House in a small, remote English town. It’s a hoary old piece, and a tad clunky, but the novel, film and TV versions, and the play, have been consistently popular – only The Mousetrap (another mediocre piece) has had a longer run on the West End.

Once more, with feeling

There’s some post-modern, story-about-a-story business, as Arthur Kipps (John Waters), a self-effacing and strangely diminished solicitor, tries to enliven his story for an actor (Daniel MacPherson) he has retained to tell it. So as fast as you can say ‘flashbacks,’ there we are, young solicitor travels to an old dark house to wind-up the estate of dowager Mrs. Alice Drablow. Shades of Jonathan Harker’s trip to the Carpathian Mountains.

Whilst the lawyer is sifting through papers, we are treated to a bunch of “effects without causes”* – the usual smorgasbord of haunted house tropes; slamming doors, screams, flashes of light and flashes of darkness, the sound of a horse and trap and fleeting appearances by a mysterious woman in black – we eventually learn about a single mother, a child, his fate and her revenge, and revenge’s lengthening shadow.

Every plot point creaks and croaks as from under a wheel; the gothic touches spill untidily as straw from a broken doll, but it survives as pleasant entertainment due to the accomplished playing of two accomplished actors, Waters and MacPherson. The woman in black does dramatic entrances and exits, although she was not disposed to answer the curtain call. This is a nice and uncerebral night’s entertainment, that could do with some tightening of the script, and perhaps be enhanced by some more pyrotechnics when it heads to its national run.

[*”Effects without causes.” Thus Wagner, commenting on an opera by Meyerbeer.]


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