The Lower Ossington Theatre is a buzzing place post-Halloween and pre-Christmas. The Rocky Horror Show is still packing them in and has been extended yet again. And a spooky new production, The Woman in Black, has just opened in the smaller theatre space. LOT has a knack for finding crowd-pleasing scripts and giving them solid productions that can run for as long as they care to keep filling seats - their stellar version Avenue Q is returning and will probably run for decades.
The Woman in Black is very cleverly structured as a ghost story within a post-modern theatre critique within a highly theatrical scary story resulting in a fun and startling thrill ride. Re-hashing the plot would provide spoilers that could ruin the fun (and seeing the film version will be no relief from the tension - this is a totally different animal) but even when one thinks one has figured out the upcoming shocks and surprises: one will jump several times and succumb to the mysterious dark atmosphere. The original story is written in delicious pseudo-Victorian/Gothic language and this production revels in the words' sensuality and power. It is quite simply hypnotic, lulling the audience into a state where they are extremely vulnerable to the scares to come.
The two main protagonists, Andrei Predra and Adrian Griffiths, are a delight to watch, always in motion and letting the lush vowels roll in perfectly pitched streams of imagery. Characters come and go, are conjured out of thin air, and even the multiple costume changes on coat racks to the side become looming presences. Predra has an extremely mobile - and attractive - face and body, and draws the audience into a marvellous place where what he feels ricochets through the audience creating remarkable empathy. Griffiths is a more stolid presence and it is not until after, that one marvels at how many moods and beings he inhabited during the course of the evening. Claire Acott is, unfortunately, mostly a prop but she fulfills that duty with glee and is quite a haunting spectre.
The set is a deceptively simple black box but the lighting, sparse props and excellently executed sound effects create whole worlds. Having the actors comment on the very theatricality of the piece - the premise is that the two actors are creating a play out of memoirs in a form of therapy to recover from the horrific events - actually enhances the reality, a very clever coup de theatre. And, not incidentally, sets up the final denouement, the last shock, where the competing agendas come to a head and all three characters (and the audience) are stunned into silence. Director Alan Kinsella and the design team deserve kudos for setting a stage in a small space that reveals more and more, layers upon layers, with precision timing that appears effortless but obviously required meticulous planning and execution. Meta-theatricality to achieve seamless storytelling, very well done.
It is wonderful to sit in the dark - and a lot of The Women in Black takes place in a foggy spine-chilling darkness - to be thrilled and scared. A good ghost story has, as Predra notes early on, the power to "draw on our emotions, draw on our imaginations" and The Woman in Black conjures an eerie atmosphere and tragic story by sheer force of talent. The original production has been running in London since 1989, this one should run as long as LOT would like to run it.
The Woman in Black continues until Sun, Dec 1 at The Lower Ossington Theatre,
100A Ossington Ave.