Reagan Warner (left) and Dom Tennison. Photos: Nick O'Sullivan
The Woman in Black
Adapted by Stephen Mallatratt
From the novel by Susan Hill
Directed by John Boyce
Brisbane Arts Theatre
Season: June 10-July 15. Duration: Two hours ten minutes including interval. Bookings: www.artstheatre.com.au or (07) 3369 2344
Arts theatre Artistic Director John Boyce is very fond of this play – it is the third time I have seen one of his productions and luckily each time I have forgotten the ending! Which is a good thing, because the shock brings audible gasps from first-timers and to remember would spoil the show.
It is a tough job for a pair of actors who spend almost two hours on stage switching characters and timeframes but Boyce had a couple who were up to the job in Dom Tennison and Reagan Warner.
I have seen both these top class actors at work before, Tennison in Equus and Warner in Elodie Boal’s Wondered, and I wrote: “It was surprising to learn that Tennison has only been acting for four years. His performance would have graced any professional stage”. And of Warner: “with some brilliant use of his eyes he was a magnificent Hatter. His mood changes were always on cue and he developed from nervy to truly nasty so subtly it was insidious.
So I was expecting some class performances.
The story told is about a middle-aged man, Arthur Kipps (Dom Tennison), who, when young, was sent to Eel Marsh House a country house set on an island in a fog-ridden marsh in the north of England to sort out the estate of Mrs Alice Drablow . It was there that he encountered the ghostly woman in black. He is now determined to tell his tale to the world and to end the nightmares he has been having over the years
As the play opens Kipps is reading a script to an empty theatre where a young actor (Reagan Warner) has been hired to help him in the delivery of his story. So the actor takes the story in hand and plays the role of the young Arthur as the old Arthur plays several different characters from the dry solicitor to the taciturn carriage driver to local dignitary and sickly nose sniffing clerk, as well as himself.
Warner had all the bounce of an egotistical Edwardian actor with Byronical good looks and a great speaking voice that projected well. He contrasted perfectly with the gentler, less confident Arthur.
Between them they told the spooky tale well and helped create a creepy atmosphere. The shocks and suspense kept the audience gasping or nervously giggling
This ambience was also helped by a great sound and lighting plot from Sarah Goode and James Marsden, particularly in the second act when the huge scrim opened up onto the dark and cluttered haunted house, designed by Negar Zargar Amini.
I had a problem in Act One with the lighting and the scrim, which for me was too dominant and bright. It just did not project the feeling of menace and impending doom I felt was necessary to create a satisfying end to the act.
But the second act made up for it and simply flew by. The haunting became very real and suspense strong.
The actors were dressed well in period, but the costumes did look a bit dowdy and trousers were definitely in need of a pressing. They are little things, but details like that enhance a production.