Garth Holcombe and Jamie Oxenbould in ‘The Woman In Black’ at the Ensemble Theatre. Pic Daniel Boud

THE WOMAN IN BLACK, a novel by Susan Hill adapted for the stage by Stephen Mallatratt, is created in the metatheatre tradition, using a play within a play approach, which gives audiences an extra layer to work with. Inevitably, the curtain is drawn on the play within, and we are drawn back to the play itself.

The play’s main character Mr Kipps is troubled by disturbing memories of his journey to fog bound Eel Marsh, where Mrs Drablow’s lonely house stands in isolation. Trapped by the fog, he witnessed mysterious events he would rather forget, but cannot. In desperation, he enlists the help of an actor to tell his tale and exorcise the demons that haunt his dreams. As the two men become immersed in Kipps’ story, eerie events materialise from the mists of the past and begin to haunt the present.

Ensemble Theatre Artistic Director Mark Kilmurry is in the Director’s chair with Rachel Chant his Assistant. His production is very much in keeping with one of his previous productions, the 2019 show ‘Murder On The Wireless’, where theatrics were very much in play, and. the audience needed to play along with the play. 

Garth Holcombe and Jamie Oxenbould perform the piece with dexterity.

Holcombe has two roles as the very assured Actor and, in the play within the play, he plays Mr Kripps as he replays his nightmarish experiences going to Mrs Drablow’s lonely isolated house in the countryside of Eel Marsh.

Oxenbould plays Mr Kripps in the main play and then an assortment of different characters that Mr Kripps encounters.

Oxenbould performs his changes in character artfully through changes in costume, voice tone  and posture. He shows, once again, that he is one of Sydney’s finest and most versatile actors.

Hugh O’Connor’s functional set works well. Much of the play relies on the audience’s imagination. For instance, the trunk, a much used prop, becomes a horse and cart. The dog that is given to Kripps with the purpose to give him some comfort in the difficult task of sorting out the late Mrs Drablow’s affairs, is mimed by the performers.

Trudy Dalgleish’s lighting design and Michael Waters soundscape are very effective and integral to making this play zing.

For those who enjoy theatre of the imagination with some frights along the way, this show is a treat.

The Ensemble Theatre’s production of THE WOMAN IN BLACK is playing the Ensemble Theatre, 78 McDougall Street, Kirribilli until 24 July 2021.

Running time 2 hours including one interval.

Production photography by Daniel Boud