Reviving an age-old story

A review of Neptune Theatre’s The Woman in Black

Walking into a foggy theatre, audiences already knew this play was going to capture them with its design.  

While the story of The Woman in Black isn’t a new one, the play is based off a novel written in 1983, the Neptune Theatre’s take on this chilling story is one that’s worth the time. Neptune is running the show from Oct. 20 to Nov. 14.  

At first glance, the set didn’t look like anything special – a mostly disheveled room, heavy with abandonment. The lighting was simple; the room was quiet. This all changed as the play progressed. It was almost as if the set itself was revealed along with the plot.  

The premise of The Woman in Black is simple – a play within a play. However, there are many layers to the story within. On the surface, it deals with a man who is too afraid to perform his own play. The next layer of the story goes into why he was afraid – a ghost encounter. Lastly, the story delves into why he wanted to tell people his story, revealing his trauma.  

Actress Gil Anderson showcased her unique talent as she inhabited the character of the director in one part of the story and Kipps, a lawyer, in the play within the play. She was energetic, enthusiastic and ecstatic. Her energy kept the audience engaged; her character choices were loud and bold but not in an over-the-top distracting way, making the audience move with her character’s fluctuating states.  

Meanwhile, Gordon Patrick White proved himself as a spectacular character actor. He took on many roles in many forms and never missed a beat within any of them. Even with the minimal costume changes, there was never a doubt in the audience’s mind about which character he was playing within the reality of the stage.  

However, what really made this production special were the technical elements. The sound was embedded in a way that broke the fourth wall, making it diegetic for one layer of the play and non-diegetic for the other. This use of sound supported White’s character acting by adding another layer of realism on to the stage. Whether it was carriage or crowd noises, sound was used to change the atmosphere of the stage without ever really changing the placement of the object and props.  

Similarly, while the lighting design was arguably simple, it was very effective in changing the mood of the scene. Using a neater version of rehearsal lights for one layer of the story and specialized coloured lights for the other, the light design helped smooth the transitions between different layers of the story.  

The only thing lacking in the production was the titular woman in black. Even though her existence is the main element of horror in the play, she was rather downplayed. The production strived to create suspense and tension through its storytelling, exchanging a solid villain for the idea of one.  

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