THE CANTERVILLE GHOST
Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, Tuesday 18th December, 2018
Tall Stories bring Oscar Wilde’s novella to the stage in this breezy adaptation devised by the cast. A quartet of music hall performers (a magician, a comic, a psychic, and the Chairman) enact the story, interspersing their acts between the scenes. The Wilde and the music hall acts are given equal weight; it’s like we’re getting two shows in one – and there’s a reason for this, a reason for the outmoded music hall motif…But I’ll get to that.
Tom Jude amazes as Tom Artaud, the stage musician. There’s a lot of stage magic in this production from sleight of hand to making things disappear, and it’s refreshing to behold first hand in this jaded, CGI world we live in. Jude is also delightful as the disgruntled Sir Simon de Canterville, the eponymous ghost, and hilarious as the housekeeper almost collapsing under the weight of her own baggage.
Matt Jopling is young William Otis, and also a very physical comedian. His act includes a foul-mouthed ventriloquist dummy, demonstrating Jopling’s well-honed skills, and a wicked sense of humour. Like the stage magic, it’s a treat to see old-school ventriloquism performed so well and with an edge.
Lauren Silver is William’s twin, Olivia, and also an hilariously hammy stage psychic, retching when the spirits enter her, with her charlatanism on her sleeve – until her tricks work out, that is, and you can’t work out how she does it!
Steve McCourt, the Chairman, is mainly at the piano, but he also appears as the twins’ father, a crass salesman of household goods. McCourt has a beautiful singing voice, especially when backed by gorgeous harmonies, provided by the other three. The songs by Jon Fiber and Andy Shaw have a jaunty music-hall feel with clever lyrics, but also a melancholy touch. The entire show has intimations of mortality running through it like lettering in seaside rock. We are urged to enjoy the moment, to tell our stories well, so that we will be remembered…
Running in parallel to the Wilde story of the spectre with unfinished business, trying to clear his name for a murder he didn’t commit, is the story of the four music hall performers who have their own reasons for setting a record straight. It ties the production up neatly and cleverly.
This is an utterly charming show, performed by appealing actors. Using only a simple set of doors and curtains, they conjure up both the music hall stage and Canterville Hall. The direction (by Olivia Jacobs and Toby Mitchell) keeps things slick and fluid, capitalising on the actors’ physicality and a host of sound effects to add to the humour of the presentation.
A well-crafted, beautiful bauble of a show, it’s not for the little ones, but families with older kids will be tickled and enchanted. I loved it.