For more than 25 years, The Woman in Black has been lauded as the most terrifying live theatre experience in the world, and next month the spine-chiller comes to Beenleigh.
Phoenix Ensemble presents the hugely popular West End play over four weekends, opening 2 May in the intimate (and atmospheric) Pavilion Theatre.
The Woman in Black is the story of Arthur, a man trying to come to grips with disturbing events of his past. As a junior solicitor, he was summoned to a bleak house for the funeral of its sole inhabitant, a mysterious woman with tragic secrets. Now, years later, he's desperate to exorcise the ghosts from that encounter.
While the play explores themes of isolation, death, loneliness and revenge, it also offers a glimmer of hope through the characters' journeys.
Director Steve Pearton (who directed last year's much-loved It's A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play) is relishing the chance to delve into darker territory with the psychological thriller.
"I think people relish a good scare (on stage or on screen) for a number of reasons: we seek a distraction from the daily routines of life; we want to counter social norms; we seek an adrenaline rush; and we hope to voyeuristically glimpse fright from a safe distance. We revel in leftover childhood fears that still reside in our subconscious, like archetypes. Watching a play or a movie allows us to experience these fearful emotions from a distance, in the knowledge that we can safely exit the theatre when it's all done.
"I have plenty of archetypal fears residing in my unconscious, so what better way to play with those fears than by telling a ghost story? Apart from that, the bottom line is that it is a great story."
While Hollywood uses special effects and camera angles to ratchet up tension in horror movies, live theatre brings other dimensions.
"The Woman in Black is a ghost story, and the best ghost stories are all about what you do NOT see," Steve says.
"Lighting and sound effects obviously help, but in this production it's also critical the audience has an emotional connection to the characters.
"The biggest challenge I had was finding the appropriate balance between engaging the audience on an emotional level and getting the scare factor right. A great series of scares are all well and good, but if the audience doesn't care about the characters or their journey, it's all for nothing. Fortunately, my cast (Alex Milosevic, William Boyd, Maranne McQuade and Jermia Turner) has been up to the challenge."
Steve points out the play is not for everyone, given the nature of the production. "While there's no profanity or violence in the show, it is a horror story. There are no gushes of blood, but there's plenty of psychological tension. It's definitely not suitable for young children."
But for audiences who love quality live theatre and crave a nerve-shredding thriller, Steve says: "Embrace the fear!"
"Phoenix has a well-deserved reputation for producing a wide variety of interesting shows; productions that are not your run-of-the-mill 'drawing-room comedies'. The Woman In Black is certainly not your standard community theatre piece, so I hope it will be embraced as something unique and above all, entertaining."
The Woman in Black
Venue: Pavilion Theatre, Beenleigh Showgrounds, James Street, Beenleigh
7.30pm: 2, 3, 9, 10, 16, 17, 23 and 24 May
Tickets: $26 adult; $24 concession