Published on June 17th, 2024 | by Sandro Falce

The Woman in Black (Melbourne, Athenaeum Theatre) Review

The Woman in Black (Melbourne, Athenaeum Theatre) Review Sandro Falce

Summary: With two top-notch performances, a great sense of foreboding, and a healthy dash of "the magic of theatre", this new production of 'The Woman in Black' is easily one of the best shows of the year.


A Must-See!

From 1989 to 2023, ‘The Woman in Black’ ran on London’s West End and became the second longest-running (non-musical) play, coming in just after Agatha Christie’s ‘The Mousetrap’. With 33 years worth of performances, it’s no surprise that the new Australian tour has so much buzz around it. And as it should, this production is a must-see for all theatre lovers in Melbourne, or in a location where this show will be heading next.

‘The Woman in Black’ is a ghost story within a ghost story. It tells the tale of Arthur Kipp, an older man who is working with an enthusiastic actor to dramatize a traumatic event from his past. We, the audience, sit in on extended rehearsals for this show, as well as conversations about how the performance will work. This gimmick is incredibly effective and brings a lot of levity to what ends up being a fairly dark story.

It also works as a way to naturally introduce the audience to a very minimalist stage. When you have your actors talk about how a wicker basket will become a carriage, then your audience will know that they should be imagining a carriage when we watch them rehearse that scene. This form of meta storytelling is a lot of fun and is a great way to help a modern audience that is most likely used to bigger, flashier productions get around the idea of “the magic of theatre”.

And there is a lot of magic to be found in this production. Horror is one of the hardest genres to do on stage, and the team have nailed it with ‘The Woman in Black’. There is a great sense of foreboding in this play that only grows and grows throughout the 2-hour runtime. Couple that with the lighting design by Kevin Sleep, which deliberately casts the corners of the stage in darkness just enough for your mind to think there might be something there, and you’ve got the perfect level of tension needed to immerse yourself in this tale.

Unlike a lot of modern horror productions, there aren’t a whole lot of in-your-face scares here either. Don’t get me wrong, if you like a good jumpscare then you won’t be disappointed, but ‘The Woman in Black’ holds off on a lot of obvious scares and is all the better for it. This helps some of the sillier horror moments of the play feel more earned.

But we can’t talk about ‘The Woman in Black’ without mentioning it’s cast. Firstly, we have John Waters as Arthur Kipps, who has previously toured this show around Australia back in the 2000s. Waters is excellent in this role, bringing a mixture of humor and sadness to what might be one of the best stage performances I’ve seen this year. There are so many layers to Arthur Kipps, especially in the second half of the show where he’s mostly on narrator duties. You can tell that the character of Arthur, who is currently playing the narrator during a rehearsal, is shaken by reliving the events that we are currently seeing play out on stage, and it takes an incredibly talented actor to be able to portray that. John Waters is up for the challenge and knocks it out of the park.

And then we have Daniel MacPherson as The Actor. During the majority of the show, MacPherson’s performance is rather upbeat. He brings a lot of energy to the stage, filling the minimal set with enthusiasm about the show that these two men will be putting on. But as he takes us deeper into the story, with the tone becomes darker, we’re with him every step of the way. MacPherson is perfectly cast in this role, using his TV hosting experience to be the audience’s conduit into whatever feeling we’re meant to be having at any point of the play.

So if you’re wondering if you should head out to the Athenaeum Theatre to see ‘The Woman in Black’ before it leaves Melbourne on the 6th of July, then yes, please go. If you love theatre, this is a must-see. If you love horror, this is a must-see. If you’re a fan of the 2012 movie ‘The Woman in Black’, starring Daniel Radcliffe, then this probably also is a must-see (I’m not sure, I haven’t seen it). Either way, this production is wonderful and I hope that it’s success here in Australia helps other shows like it reach our stages.

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Comedian, podcaster and radio presenter.

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