The Woman in Black is haunting the Athenaeum Theatre

The Woman in Black is the second longest-running non-musical play in West End history, and now Woodward Productions have brought the work of Susan Hill to Melbourne’s Athenaeum Theatre.

As the audience sat and waited for the show to begin on opening night, the conversations were all about the slanted stage that sat in front of us with a very minimal, tattered set. 

I was feeling anxious from the start. I had never seen a show of this style, and knowing it was a thriller, I was prepared for jump scares from the very beginning. 

The first of many was when Daniel Macpherson appeared in the most unexpected of places. The actor is known for his work in Neighbours, the British drama The Bill, his collaborations with Russell Crowe, and now he is taking to the stage to tell a ghost story. 

The show begins with his co-star John Waters, who plays the character of Arthur Kipps, repeating the line, “It was 9:30 on Christmas Eve”. He is positioned on a lonely stage in front of an “empty theatre”, while Daniel is sitting three rows from the back of the stalls. 

Just like Daniel, John Waters has an extensive resume across stage and screen, including the lead in Jesus Christ Superstar and Hair, and roles in All Saints, Underbelly: The Golden Mile and Doctor Doctor

Arthur Kipps approaches the Actor because he wants to share a story “that needs to be told” in the hope that it stops haunting him. The Actor ends up taking on the role of Arthur Kipps to recount the story of a solicitor who is sent to a small eerie town to clean up the affairs of the local recluse Alice Drablow, who had recently passed away. 

PHOTO: Justin Nicholas

A yellow light is utilised to transition in and out of scenes, to clearly distinguish between the ghost story and interactions between The Actor and Arthur Kipps. It is extremely effective in preventing any possible confusion for the audience amidst a complex storyline. 

I was sitting on the edge of my seat for most of the first act preparing myself for jump scares, but in the end, I surprisingly spent most of the act laughing.

There is a low budget for the play that Kipps and the Actor are creating, so a single basket was used as a bed, a railway carriage, a horse-drawn carriage and many other mysterious objects. 

This small detail is one of the many things that sends laughter echoing throughout the theatre.

Daniel and John play off each other effortlessly, finding a way to do justice to a ghost story while infusing it with plenty of humour. 

Act 2  is when the jumpscares really begin with spine-chilling squeals, knocking from a locked door, a chair rocking by itself and the introduction of the one and only Woman in Black.

The audience is first introduced to the Woman in Black as she walks through the theatre slowly heading to the graveyard to attend the funeral of Alice Drablow. 

The theatre is filled with smoke at several points in the narrative to represent the thick fog experienced by the locals of Crythin Gifford. Each occasion signaling danger which sends an adrenaline rush through your body.

The outcome of the story has many twists and turns, but it also feels like you have cracked a mystery yourself by the end of the production.

It is wholesome to watch the characters come together to share the story for the sanity of Arthur Kipps, and in the process, form a strong connection between themselves. 

Like all horror stories, The Woman in Black leaves the audience with a final piece of eerie information… which you will have to find out for yourself!

If you are looking for a mind-boggling adrenaline rush, you must see The Woman in Black.

She is haunting the Athenaeum Theatre home until July 6.

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