Tag: Merinda Backway

Redfox 3 Presents THE WOMAN IN BLACK

Plenty to both love and dread in classic ghost tale

By Myron My

I will admit there was some trepidation as I sat down to see Redfox 3 Theatre Company‘s production of Susan Hill’s much loved ghost story The Woman In Black. It was not due to the anticipated horror of the novella-turned-play, but the hopes that the newly established company would be able to tell the tale just as masterfully as it has been told in the West End for over three decades.

The Woman in Black.jpg

I remember seeing Stephen Mallatratt‘s adaptation of the play for the first time in 2008, and feeling something I have never felt in theatre before; terror and fear. A genuine emotion of unease rippled throughout the audience and the walk home that evening was not a joyous experience. This experience repeated itself upon my second, third and fourth viewing of the play, and it’s fair to say that The Woman In Black is my favourite theatrical performance of all time.

Fortunately, in this local production, director Justin Stephens has maintained the overall apprehension and dread that slowly builds into the story, while also creating some original moments that even had me surprised at how certain events were executed. His direction of the woman in black herself ensures there are palpable “jump in your seat” moments and the relationship he creates between Kieran Tracey and Chris McLean‘s characters feels highly authentic.

Tracey’s switches from the Actor to the younger Arthur Kipps are well defined and he manages to keep the two characters distinct in mannerism and speech. As the story develops and the mystery deepens, Tracey expertly shows how both these men begin to be haunted by their experiences. McLean delivers a convincing effort as present-day Arthur Kipps, however I felt there needed to be a stronger weariness and alertness to him considering all he has endured. McLean’s portrayal of the various townspeople and minor characters were too often played for laughs rather than attempting to keep the serious nature of the story, though this is more a comment on the direction than McLean’s acting.

Set designer Merinda Backway‘s clever use of the space and darkness allows the audience to run off with their imagination. Lighting – or lack of – is imperative to a show like this and lighting designer Callum Robertson does an impeccable job in literally keeping the audience in the pitch dark while being able to see the actors on stage. Unfortunately, the use of the projections in Act 1 felt very much out of place with the rest of the performance and their use seemed to be more to manipulate the audience into feeling scared rather then letting us feel the terror organically. Considering they are never to be seen again in Act 2, perhaps it would even be better to leave them out completely.

Despite the mentioned issues, Redfox 3 Theatre Company has taken on an ambitious gamble in staging this classic book, and this production of The Woman In Black pays off handsomely. This conventional yet highly entertaining ghost story is full of chills and thrills that is bound to have people sleeping with their lights on.

Venue: The Memo, 235 Marrondah Hwy, Healesville, Victoria, 3777
Season: 4 September | Sun 2pm
Tickets: $28 Full | $24 Conc
Bookings: The Memo

Ellis Productions Presents AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS

Frantic and frivolous fun

By Rebecca Waese

Adapted from Jules Verne’s 1873 novel, this production of Around the World in 80 Days (reinvented for the stage by Toby Hulse and directed by Terence O’Connell) is light-hearted, silly, and farcical fun. While the tone is inescapably dated in its colonial attitudes of English superiority, it has much to offer viewers who like slapstick comedy and don’t take stereotypes too seriously.

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The play is self-aware, tongue-in-cheek and colludes with the audience at the impossibilities and the joys of staging such a massive production with just three actors playing 39 parts. Full of frenetic adventures and running gags, the play transports you back to the Great Victorian Age where Englishman Phileaus Fogg, (Ian Stenlake) wagers a fortune that he can circumnavigate the globe in just 80 days with his servant Passepartout (Pia Miranda) by his side. They are pursued throughout the adventure by Inspector Fix from Scotland Yard (Grant Piro) who is convinced that Fogg is a bank robber on the run.

Pia Miranda, as Passepartout, brings animated energy to the role and shows a knack for physical comedy. Grant Piro, is a stand-out as the obsessive Inspector Fix but even more captivating in his role as the storyteller with an illuminated map hat who guides the audience to imagine the journey through time and space, conjuring up so much with so little. Stenlake is a steady Fogg who may have been overshadowed on the night by the zeal and energy of the other outrageous characters but conveys a sense of the importance of order convincingly.

Merinda Backway’s set design is inventive and versatile using only a few crates and railings to create the elaborate transcontinental train, a ship, and one particularly delightful and wild hidden surprise. Lauren Richie’s gorgeous hats are worth a mention, adorned by miniature trains, binoculars, and other intricate symbols of the Victorian age.

Undoubtedly, Fogg’s Orientalist view of the world is outdated in 2016, and the Indian and Chinese accents rely on age-old wince-worthy stereotypes that reflect the time in which the novel was written. However, the scene in which Grant Piro plays the Indian Princess in drag at the end of the play is, unexpectedly, one of the finest moments of the show. Pico’s Indian Princess and Stenlake’s Fogg carry the audience’s hopes up in the air with them as Fogg leaves behind some of his earlier inhibitions and enjoys, with some subversive self-reflexivity, a bit of romance that has the audience rallying for him and his masculine princess.

The play is suitable for older children and fans of slapstick and physical humour but one scene may not be appropriate for young children, where the Indian princess widow is drugged and just about to burn on her husband’s funeral pyre before Passepartout performs a dramatic rescue. If old-fashioned farce is your cup of tea, this is fun physical humour from a simpler time of storytelling.

Around the World in 80 Days is playing at Alex Theatre in St. Kilda, Tues Aug 23- Sept 4 at 7:30 with matinees on Sat (2 pm) and Sun (3 pm).

Tickets: http://premier.ticketek.com.au/shows/show.aspx?sh=AROUNDTH16

Image by James Terry

Rebecca Waese is a Lecturer in Creative Arts and English at La Trobe University.