Review by Charlotte Leamon
The Woman in Black is an adaptation of Susan Hill’s novel of horror and nightmares, following the tale of Mr Kipps’ haunting by the woman in black. The play details Mr Kipps, played by Jamie Oxenbould, seeking to stage the story of his haunting with the assistance of an actor (played by Garth Holcombe). The story in which he tells is that of his journey to the Eel Marsh house where the recently deceased Mrs Drablow lived. In staging a play, he wishes to tell his story and relieve the burden of horrors that he holds within.
I was intrigued by the blurb of this play which stated that the audience would be humoured and yet terrified. It was the first time I was to witness a thriller on stage, thus I was naturally curious as to discover how the audience would react with horror, in addition to comical elements. Through entering the theatre with suspicion and curiosity, I was blown away by Ensemble Theatre’s production of this West End thriller. Changes between the past and present allowed for comic relief so that the audience was not constantly tense and on edge, however the subtle pull of focus and lighting changes created live jump-scares and a screaming audience.
Oxenbould played an array of characters, which each had a unique, unflawed English accent. Furthermore, Oxenbould’s physical gestures and movements were comical and eerie when need be, but overall his performance was immaculate. Similarly, Holcombe played an actor, acting as Mr Kipps. Emotions of fear and terror displayed by Holcombe drew the audience in, fearing them of what would come next. The duality and connection between Holcombe and Oxenbould was clear for the audience, as their synchronised movements and stage placement were met with precision, despite the small performance space. An example of the beautiful direction made by Mark Kilmurry was a train scene, in which both men were swaying back and forth, setting a very realistic scene for the audience.
Trudy Dalgeish (lighting designer), Michael Walters (sound designer) and Hugh O’Connor (set and costume designer) all contributed to the immersive experience of this play. The set was representative of the Edwardian era with a rustic wooden theme, and objects such as a trunk and a coat hook. Moreover, there was a door with which much curiosity and investigation later led to reveal a little boys room filled with trinkets and most importantly, a rocking chair. Grey drapes were set across the back of the stage, creating an ominous area where the graveyard of the Eel Marsh house lay. The costumes consisted of old English briefcases, hats, scarves and coats which assisted in quick character changes and created an atmospheric experience. Lastly, the lighting was clever and thoughtful, for example displaying a picture-perfect fire and creating dramatic contrast between the past and present.
Ensemble Theatre’s production of The Woman in Black was special and a once in a lifetime experience. The actors broke the fourth wall by sitting and standing in the aisles of the theatre, as they too were staging a play. This however, was an element of surprise for the audience, as the woman in black herself would appear from every which direction, taunting us as we wouldn’t know where she would come from next. The audience was on the edge of their seat the whole time and left with adrenaline still pumping through their veins. For anybody who wants a thrill or rush, as well as a magnificently produced and performed play, I would recommend Ensemble Theatre’s production of The Woman in Black, as it is not one to miss.
Image Credit: Daniel Boud