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Gripping journey into dark world of the imagination 

John Waters, left, and Daniel MacPherson in The Woman in Black.

Theatre / The Woman in Black. At Canberra Theatre until July 14. Reviewed by LEN POWER.

Good ghost stories are those that engage your imagination, gripping and taking you on a dark journey where something nasty in the shadows may be about to strike. 

The Woman In Black is a fine example of this genre – frightening, imaginative and enjoyable at the same time.

Based on the 1983 book of the same name by English author Susan Hill, Stephen Mallatratt has created a stage adaptation that uses the magic of theatre to really get the imagination going. 

First performed in London in 1989, the show ran until 2023, becoming the second longest-running non-musical play in London’s West End, after The Mousetrap.

Arthur Kipps, a man deeply disturbed by an incident that occurred 30 years previously, struggles to present his story in rehearsal for a staged reading. 

Assisted by an actor who assumes the role of Kipps for the retelling, Arthur then plays the other male characters in a story of remote Eel Marsh House and the strange experience of the young lawyer Kipps who travels there to finalise an estate. What the young Kipps encounters is a true horror that reaches into the present day.

The framing device of a play-within-a-play works very well. We readily accept that we are asked to use imagination for the various scenes that unfold, setting us up for the supernatural aspects of the story. 

The suspenseful atmosphere builds unsettlingly well – there are strange, unexplained sounds, the rocking chair swinging back and forth in an empty room, the fumbled torch that plunges us into darkness and the locked door that suddenly opens by itself. Then there is something horribly eerie in the shadows as well…

John Waters is the older Arthur Kipps at the start and end of the play who is the storyteller and he plays the various other male characters encountered in the story. 

Daniel MacPherson is the actor who then plays the younger Kipps in the story. Both actors play their roles convincingly, keeping the impact of the incidents in the play that affect their characters at a very real level.

Clever lighting and sound designs add a great deal to the atmospheric set, making this a memorable journey into the dark world of the imagination. 

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