In a world of technological wizardry and the ability to insert projections into theatrical productions that leave little to the imagination, there’s something more than a little ‘retro’ about good old-fashioned storytelling and the odd sound effect, or two, or ten. Coupled with compelling acting from Robert Durbin as David Filde and Jamie Laird as Lord Gray, and a credible narrative from writer Hugh Janes, The Haunting, despite its chilling storyline, has a touching warmth to it.
It can’t be easy to enact the apparent temperature in a study room without a fireplace in the middle of a Victorian winter in such a warm and cosy theatre auditorium. The key is to make it seem easy, which our duo does excellently. Now I’m one of those people, I confess, that doesn’t really get much of a thrill out of ghost stories – while others may find them compelling, my thoughts tend to drift towards the fact that this isn’t really happening, it’s theatre, and when I step out of this room and out of the building I will find the world at large is more or less what it was when I walked in here.
Further, there’s been a tendency in ghost tales in theatres in recent years to make audiences jump by cranking up the volume so loud that it triggers an involuntary reaction. But it leaves the plot rather irrelevant. In this production, though, the story (and a story within the story, and at one point, a further story within that story within the story) fits in with the more eerie and creepy elements of the play. A combination of investigation, intrigue and scant background detail drive our characters to deduce once and for all what exactly is going on in both the physical and the spirit world. It’s really like watching disparate pieces of a jigsaw come together.
Lovers of Charles Dickens’ literature will no doubt have fun working out which elements of the play are adapted from which sections of which books. There are smidges of humour scattered about too, providing sufficient comic relief without detracting from the tense atmosphere built up. Still, with the occult being given centre stage, I couldn’t help but think of Dame Angela Lansbury as Madame Arcati in a revival of Blithe Spirit in the spring/summer of 2014. The methods of communicating with the spirit world in this show were rather less intense, but just as elaborate.
Okay, so I didn’t jump out of my seat yelling expletives. But what’s beautiful about this piece is how extraordinarily believable each of the supernatural elements are. It’s just as well the acting was so strong and the press night audience so attentive. Talking and sweet wrappers and such like are irritating at any show but would have utterly wrecked the tense atmosphere in this play.
A late revelation as to the real underlying reason why David Filde is visiting Lord Gray at all is predictable at one level but also sheds some unpalatable truths about society at large at the time. Dickens, an avid social commentator in his day, would have been proud. I’d like to think he’d have been proud of the whole thing. Tenacious directing from Kate Bannister stops the show from even going anywhere near Victorian melodrama. A fascinating show, especially given the whole thing is set in just one room.
Julia Pagett, also in the production, is a) well cast for the role she inhabits, and b) her portrayal of her character, although minor relative to the other two, is worth the price of a ticket alone…
Review by Chris Omaweng
The Jack Studio Theatre presents The Haunting
by Hugh Janes, adapted from the ghost stories of Charles Dickens
Directed by Kate Bannister
Tuesday 8th December 2015 to Sunday 3rd January 2016
Performances at 7.45pm
An ancient manor house stands decaying on a bleak and windswept moor.
When David Filde, a young book dealer from London, arrives to catalogue the rare and valuable library of Lord Gray, it seems that someone – or something – does not want him to complete his work.
Disturbed by incidents both inexplicable and unnerving, Filde must convince the sceptical Lord Gray to confront the truth about what is causing them. As they look for answers within the crumbling mansion, the two men unleash a terrifying chain of events.
In The Haunting, Hugh Janes weaves together Charles Dickens’ ghost stories to create a classic tale of mystery and suspense. This Christmas the most biting chills of all may be found inside.
The Jack’s annual festive production is produced by the same team behind the Shipwrecked! The Mystery of Irma Vep, Ghost Train and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
The Brockley Jack Studio Theatre
410 Brockley Road, London, SE4 2DH