By M R James
Performed by Robert Lloyd Parry
Venue: Mill Studio
Date: Thursday 9th May 2013
A companion piece to A Pleasing Terror, this evening’s stories performed by Robert Lloyd Parry were Lost Hearts and A Warning To The Curious, one of M R James’ best known stories; it’s certainly been done on TV at least once to my knowledge, and a very scary story it is too.
The set was as before – well-worn armchair with a very saggy cushion, a table beside it with the candelabra, whisky and other bits and bobs, a small chest or similar on the other side, a coat stand back left and another bookcase (I think – hard to see in the gloom) back right. This time the actor was off stage and came on after the lights went down. Some music was played to start things off, a bit like church choral music but in a different language and with an Eastern tang to it. Robert Lloyd Parry entered carrying a large box on which lay a book, a candle and some white gloves. He put the box down in front of the chair, placed the candle on the small chest and proceeded to put on the white gloves before pouring himself a shot of whisky, adding water and beginning his story.
It concerned a young boy, orphaned at the age of eleven, who had the good fortune (perhaps) to be taken in by a cousin, an elderly gentleman by the name of Mr Abney. The tension started to mount when the young lad discovered from the housekeeper, with whom he was on friendly terms, that Mr Abney had previously helped two other destitute children, a boy and a girl, but each had disappeared some weeks after their arrival. Despite extensive searches, no sign of them had been uncovered. The story reached a peak with the appearance of two figures, one a girl and the other a boy, and then the young lad made his way down to his cousin’s study, only to find……
The story was wrapped up with a brief explanation of how the narrator had come by this knowledge, and then the actor left the stage for the interval. The music for the second half was the pealing of church bells, and the actor returned carrying a postcard which he read out to us, after refreshing his whisky glass. A Warning To The Curious was well told, with plenty of atmosphere. It was unfortunate that the candle on his right blew out part way through; an attempt to relight it didn’t work, so that side of his face was mostly in shadow for the rest of the story. Even so, we were gripped by the tale as it unfolded and the resolution was as gruesome as could be wished.
It was interesting to hear another pair of M R James’ stories, especially as they were told so well. I was aware this time how the scary elements weren’t necessarily evil as such; they were supernatural and frightening, but in some cases were acting for the common good or trying to help. I felt little sympathy for the young archaeologist in the second story; he got what he deserved in a way, although his curiosity was also understandable. We have the DVDs, and I plan to watch them some dark night by candlelight to recreate the atmosphere at these performances.
© 2013 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me