“Striking a balance between scares, thrills, drama, comedy is a fascinating one. This show has all of those elements” – Justin Stephens’ on The Woman in Black
Suspense and horror isn’t the most common theme of a live production – more than often you’ll be treated to a thorough breakdown on human emotions that leaves you connecting with the character upon the stage, as opposed to jumping and flinching at the sudden movements. Justin Stephens’ direction of the Woman in Black will have you doing both.
Based on the 1983 horror novella by Susan Hill and having been made into a recent film starring Daniel Radcliffe, Popculture-y’s Stacey Waters was able to question Stephens’ on his inspirations behind the production and whether or not she’ll actually be brave enough to sit through it.
The Woman in Black is the second-longest running non-musical play in the history of the West End. Did the success of previous productions create any intimidation or anxiousness at all when it came time to direct your own version?
None whatsoever. In all honesty the success of previous productions made me feel better! Knowing that it was successful, has been successful, for so long gave me confidence to approach the script comfortably. The challenge lay in the refreshing of the play, to liven it up even more and create the thrill for a modern audience that has ‘seen everything’.
With only two actors upon the stage, the selection of which must be critical to the production, was it difficult to narrow down and find the perfect two to represent these characters and practically carry the performance?
There are so many elements that carry the show and without a doubt the two actors are critical. Chris and Kieran were the only choice in the end because they imbue honesty and truth to this supernatural tale. They often make it look easy, which is the mark of a good actor. We are lucky in Melbourne that there is so much talent to draw upon, particularly in the community theatre world where Chris and Kieran have cut their teeth.
Horror is an interesting genre for a stage production. Many plays hope to create a sense of emotion and feeling with their audience, does the Woman in Black instead have the hope to simply scare or thrill their audience?
Striking a balance between scares, thrills, drama, comedy is a fascinating one. This show has all of those elements. If we went with straight horror it would be a very different show. The comedy is there at the beginning with the clunky rehearsal scenes, the drama starts to unfold as we follow Kipps on his journey to a strange isolated town, and the scares come as we become more aware of a ‘presence’ in the theatre. The audience become willing participants in the scares, and are fascinated by the mystery of The Woman In Black, and love the varied characters of a small town in Northern England.
Did the release of the 2012 film, starring Daniel Radcliffe, have any influence on the way you chose to direct or present the play? Were there any moments from the film that inspired you to attempt to add something in that would invoke the same emotion of effect?
No, the film is quite different from the play. They are both versions of the original book by Susan Hill. There are things we are able to do on stage in this production that you cannot do on film. That is to say, wouldn’t have the same effect. We are able to present real live moments that leave the audience wondering if they really just saw what they saw. With film, it’s easy to dismiss a moment as CGI or clever editing. I really like the film and I’m proud we have been able to stay faithful to the book, the play, and also present our own style.
As someone that cannot handle horror in any sense, it’s rather embarrassing, how much nail biting, on the edge of your seat suspense can we expect from this production? Will I be as terrified as when I made the mistake to watch the movie alone?”
Ha! Yes, I am often asked this question. Sometimes the very idea of going into a dark theatre is enough to scare people beforehand. We do play on that quite a bit – the imagination. I could come up with all manner of contrived moments of scariness, however nothing is quite as scary as what your own mind presents itself. This is what we are attempting. Through the telling of the story, suggestion, sound, lighting, all playing with your mind so that it does the hard work of terrifying you. I had an audience member declare they couldn’t go to the bathroom by themselves that night, and that was after the matinee show! We had another gentlemen say that he saw an ‘eye’ looking at him from the set the whole time. Sounds scary, but we added no such thing to the show. I recommend bringing along a friend for reassurance. Over riding the thrills is the incredible performances of our actors who leave you with a story that is an absolute classic and one that will have you talking about long after the show finishes.
The Woman in Black is showing at the Alex Theatre in St Kilda, from the 14th to the 15th of October. Tickets can purchased here.