Festival Theatre, Malvern, Wednesday 23rd November, 2022
This slice of Victorian gothic begins with grief-stricken natural historian Professor Stokes (Maxwell Caulfield) narrating a spooky experience he has had to spiritualist Tom Beauregard (Michael Praed). And so we are transported to the site of this happening, a creepy old house by the sea, where we encounter housekeeper Mrs Hinchcliffe (Juliet Mills) and housemaid Florence (Chipo Kureya). And it’s not long before objects start moving seemingly of their own accord, to the accompaniment of plenty of bumps in the night.
Writer Michael Punter weaves an intriguing mystery; his dialogue is beautifully evocative of period and sensation. There is wry humour running through the piece, offsetting the moments of tension and surprise, which are superbly handled by director Charlotte Peters.
Maxwell Caulfield is in good form as the opinionated professor, and there is some superb character work from Juliet Mills, as a chummy version of Mrs Danvers. Chipo Kureya is their equal as the ‘sensitive’ housemaid, upping the supernatural ante. But it is Michael Praed who storms the piece as the American spiritualist, on the wrong side of the Civil War, looking and sounding every inch the debonair Southern gentleman. Young Kureya excluded, the other three must have hideous, decaying portraits stashed in their attics: how they resist the ravages of old age is perhaps the most mysterious supernatural element to the show!
Without giving too much away, there is also a splendidly eerie appearance by Will Beynon…
Dominic Bilkey’s sound design goes a long way to engendering atmosphere, while Nick Richings’s lighting plays on Philip Witcomb’s beautifully detailed set to create moments of terror and otherworldly occurrences.
It’s a well-made, good-looking production, with an interesting story and well-executed special effects. If I were in charge, however, I would tidy up some of the plot points so that all the information is revealed before the climactic action. This would mean there’d be no need for the coda scene, happening twelve months later, where two of the characters tie up the loose ends for the audience’s benefit.
Marvellously atmospheric and beautifully played, this is a spookily entertaining night out.
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Stop! Nobody ordered a table dance! Juliet Mills, Michael Praed, Maxwell Caulfield and Chipo Kureya sharing a moment (Photo: Jack Merriman)