The Woman in Black. By Stephen Mallatratt from the novel by Susan Hill. Directed by James Scott. Honest Puck Theatre. Perform Australia Theatre, Fyshwick. Bookings. stagecenta.com. Until May 26.
In a highly workable performing space made out of what is basically a big Fyshwick shed Honest Puck Theatre have created an atmospheric production of the play by Stephen Mallatratt based on Susan Hill's 1983 Gothic horror novel.
It's a dark little tale about an older man with a haunted past who employs a young actor to help tell the story of what happened to him.
Arthur Kipps (James Scott) is sent as a young man to wind up the estate of a reclusive woman and he has never really recovered from what happened next.
The setting is appropriately English, complete with marshes and quicksands and fogs and a lonely house and uncommunicative locals.
The time feels like the late 19th-century, although the Actor (Brendan Kelly) seems to be using fairly sophisticated sound playback to convey the presence of horses and carts and the ambience of the city and countryside.
Set and place are suggested by basic means. A trunk becomes the seats in a train or a pony trap, a table can stand for an office and the changing of a hat or a coat creates a new character.
An upstage scrim and a door deepen the possibilities.
Under James Scott's direction this playfulness with theatrical basics is well handled and provides a light-hearted way of drawing the audience into what becomes a story with considerable tensions and bleakness.
The Actor becomes the young Arthur Kipps and the oldKipps, warming to the craft of an actor, becomes a range of other characters, from a truculent pony and trap driver to a reluctantly supportive local.
Scott is particularly deft at the necessary changes of character that are set against Kelly's young and fatally honest Kipps.
As for the Woman in Black herself, Katherine Berry makes her brief appearances elegantly disturbing.
It might be seen as a thankless role but it needs to be done with presence and it has that.
Her story comes out but there is no resolution, only the sense of an endless haunting and more grief to come.
Honest Puck's production carries the slight but tragic story well, with warmth in the performances.
There could be fewer blackouts as the audience quickly accepts a number of furniture shifts and costume changes in full view but mostly the technical side is simply done and effective.
It's no wonder this play has turned itself into another Mousetrap, and has run since 1989 in London.
This 30-years-and-counting is the second-longest run of a non-musical play in West End history.
It is surpassed only by the above-mentioned Agatha Christie murder mystery, which began in 1952 and is still running.
The story was also adapted into a TV version in 1989, two BBC radio plays and a 2012 movie.
Honest Puck's production has mood, atmosphere and the right kind of seriousness to sustain this kind of piece
Honest Puck's production has mood, atmosphere and the right kind of seriousness to sustain this kind of piece.
Fans of the genre might find a trip to Fyshwick well worth it.
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