Woman in Black Promises Terror at Two Central Coast Theatres
“The most terrifying live theatre experience in the world…”
“My wife hated the line – believing we’d scare more people away from the theatre than bring them in,” laughed producer/director David Wicks of the Central Coast’s run of Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black in August/September this year.
“Now, really… how could anybody refuse that challenge?” said Wicks.
No stranger to community theatre (wife Shea and he used to run the very successful Holiday Coast Theatre Company in Coffs Harbour in the early ‘90s) both have enjoyed the buzz again some 25 years later in bringing to the Central Coast stage a play that has become the second longest to run in London’s West End.
“28 years! Amazing. Well, not really when you consider what an amazing piece of theatre The Woman in Black is,” said Wicks who confides the story, plot, characters and staging just “jumped out at me” when he first read the play 18 months ago.
“One of the smaller independent theatre companies here announced they were staging it late last year. I was curious and followed through seeking to audition. But then – nothing more was forthcoming except they had “postponed” their production.
“Whatever the reason, I’m so grateful to them for introducing this play to me. I followed through and bought a script – I couldn’t put it down as I imagined the young Kipps becoming engulfed in the old, dark house with strange noises, glimpses, things half seen, the quicksand in the marsh waiting to take the innocent … this is the scary stuff everyone imagines as they’re growing up,” said Wicks.
But then – there’s a cast to find.
“I knew we needed to attract the best actors possible. I didn’t want the hassle of having to tread gently with your average community theatre talent. I knew I’d be spending a lot of pre-production time to arrange the marketing, posters, sponsorship, a 16-page programme and planning the smoke and mirrors so our Woman frightens the wits out of our audience,” said David.
Wicks concedes he was very lucky with just two telephone calls.
The first was to Declan Dowling, an up-and-coming young actor who was first noticed by the Wicks in Gosford Musical Society Juniors’ production of The Little Mermaid a few years ago. Since then, Declan has gone ahead leaps and bounds with what he now hopes will become a full-time career.
Last year he was awarded the 2017 City of Newcastle Drama Award for Excellence in a Male Actor Under 18 Years. He’s played (among others) Lady Bracknell (The Importance of Being Earnest), Injun Joe (Tom Sawyer), Captain Hook (Peter Pan), Igor (Young Frankenstein) and Carl Hanratty (Catch Me If You Can) to name just a few. He’s also co-directed a production of Animal Farm for the Hunter School of Performing Arts.
“I was thrilled to get David’s phone call – The Woman in Black is my favourite play of all time and I’m enjoying putting it together for our audiences,” said 17-year-old Declan, who earlier this year (April) travelled to New York and Los Angeles, part of a theatrical study tour with HSPA.
Wicks admits he was a little nervous about Declan’s age as the character he plays is about 25, married with a 4-year old daughter.
“When he turned up for our first reading I turned to Shea (Assistant Director) and said, ‘he’s taller and lost his puppy fat’ - he’ll be fine,” laughed the director, who said he only had one actor in mind to play Old Kipps, the traumatized man who recruits a young actor to help him exorcise the ghost of the Woman in Black.
“I called Paul Russell, a brilliant actor with decades of experience and nervously asked if he’d be interested in doing a play together in 2018. He asked, ‘which play?’ and I told him,” said David, never expecting the response Paul gave.
“The Woman in Black is sensational! We did a play reading for it in Newcastle a few months ago, but I don’t think they’re going to do it. I would be very interested in playing the old man and I’d love to audition,” said Russell.
“I simply said – congratulations Paul – you’ve got the part,” said Wicks.
The Woman in Black is staged by D & S Media Productions and will run for four performances in the Don Craig Room at Laycock Street Community Theatre (Gosford) on August 23, 24 & 25, before moving to the new 500-seat main theatre in The Art House, Wyong for two performances on September 1, 2018.