By Emlyn Williams
Directed by Patric Kearns
Company: Talking Scarlet
Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
Date: Thursday 11th May 2017
The charms of an old-fashioned spooky play were lost on Guildford’s playgoers – tonight we were among only a few dozen who chose to spend their evening facing this stage. While this piece isn’t the best of its kind, and the production was towards the cheaper end of the spectrum, we found it enjoyable enough: perhaps a fuller auditorium would have given it more atmosphere, but maybe not.
The set was a strange mixture of country house and stone castle. It turned out that the sitting room in which all the action took place had been the castle’s dungeon area, but if we hadn’t been told I wouldn’t have known. A door off left, stone stairs at the back to a corridor, another door back right which led to another room and the outside. A small window on the right had a view of the garden, and the walls were heavily panelled with faux-oak. The play was set in the 1950s, and there were a few references to the war, but the furniture was a mixed bag: a sofa, armchair, various tables, desks etc. All perfectly respectable. We were also told that the castle was on an island, with boats being requested to take people back and forth.
The story concerned a widow who was determined to recall her husband’s ghost from the great beyond so that they could continue to live in wedded bliss. There were a few snags: all the mediums engaged so far had failed to materialise anything. We were to witness the latest attempt, employing a foreign medium of whom there were good reports. Unfortunately, this chap came with a partner, a woman of vast proportions for whom the words ‘brassy’ and ‘cheap’ come too short.
When the man was unmasked as a fraud, that seemed to be another chance lost, but this time there were some strange manifestations, including a figure resembling the deceased seen lurking further down the garden. With Dewer, the widow’s main assistant on her spiritual search, pressing the newly revealed ‘fraud’, Saviello, to admit to actual psychic abilities, the weird occurrences grew stronger until the final climax of the play.
There were others in the house too, and not all of them were so keen to have the dead husband brought back to life. Chief among them was Gwen, his daughter and the widow’s step-daughter. From her conversations with Bill, a young man who had just arrived to take on the job of sorting through the deceased’s writings, we learned that there had been an incestuous relationship between her and her father, and that she was the one he wanted to come back to visit. Creepy stuff!
One of the main problems with this sort of play is that it’s hard to make it truly tense in these much more sophisticated days, and there were aspects of this production which didn’t help. The lighting cues seemed to be a bit erratic, and they’d chosen to lower the lights quite noticeably when anyone delivered a story or a reminiscence, which was meant to add to the spookiness. Frankly, it only increased the gloom, and was much too obvious from our seats in the front row. I did find the psychic’s performance good though – turned out he was Welsh and keen to get back to his draper’s shop and his wife and family. He didn’t like his ‘powers’, and was particularly agitated about a man he could see in the corner of the room, who kept getting closer and had to be fought off. Although the psychic had been keen to leave the island, he was tempted to remain for a final séance, so the man in the corner had another chance…
And that’s all I’m going to say about that. The play finished with a tableau, we applauded as best we could, and while I wouldn’t recommend this as a great night out, it was enjoyable enough.
© 2017 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me