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Kindred Spirits by Ross McGregor at the Jack Studio Theatre

One of those plays that refuses to take itself too seriously, Kindred Spirits is a period piece in which – wait for it – a man who doesn’t care much for the festive period is subjected to significant amounts of paranormal activity, which eventually leads him to accept that Christmas isn’t such a terrible thing after all. Sounds familiar? Well, the details are very different in this briskly paced seasonal treat. The limitations of not being able to have any more than three characters on stage at any one time is highlighted with comic effect (there’s no point ignoring the elephant in the room), and occasional asides to the audience help maintain interest in proceedings and add a layer of nuance to a show that might otherwise have been a little too hammy.

Kindred Spirits by Ross McGregor at the Jack Studio TheatreThe range of accents is impressive, and always convincing, helping to make one character distinct from another. The costumes have a part to play in making this happen, too, and elements of pantomime even creep in, with pie references and a dame of sorts in the form of Mrs Brown (Ben Higgins), the housekeeper to a country estate inherited by Jeremy Roland (Bryan Moriarty), whose great-aunt, Esme, was a prolific author. Roland is trying to make it as a novelist, but at best he is a writer with sophisticated and challenging stories that just aren’t commercial blockbusters – at worst, he’s just not that good. He’s unlikely to be terrible, retaining as he does the services of a literary agent.

There’s a Scrooge-like character, who thinks weekends are opportunities to get extra work done and nothing else. All invoices are to be paid on time without excuses, even if the debtor is dead. Leaving aside that if he wishes to be that draconian, he should insist on cash upfront, the part is performed with such vigour and passion that it’s difficult not to find humour amongst all that dourness, which is presumably the production’s intention.

The audience is either treated or subjected to a subplot, providing insight into Roland’s novel, whose chapters are dramatized rather than described. Lily (Rachel Summers) is a fan of Esme and her books, and has come to the estate to, um, see it for herself. An inventive set design comes to life relatively early in the performance, spooking Roland (or Jeremy, as he prefers to be known) into believing that certain objects in the room aren’t as inanimate as they would reasonably be expected to be.

The stage switches between an English country manor and the American setting of Jeremy’s novel (and back again, and so on) quite easily, and with all the comings and goings of various characters, an on-stage door is heavily used. It doesn’t quite hit the heights of the Ealing comedy farces, but that is simply because it doesn’t try to – one of the biggest laughs on press night came after Mrs Brown refused to fetch Dr Dupin (also Higgins), as though it were a quick costume change too far.

The ending is sweet, without being overly saccharine, with a touch of anthropomorphism combined with one more manifestation of the supernatural. A very pleasant production at the end of a very unpleasant year, it’s the right kind of stage entertainment at the right time.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

The Jack is back this Christmas with the premiere of a hair-raising comedy that celebrates the festive spirit!

Headstrong and obstinate writer Jeremy Roland cannot believe his luck when he inherits an idyllic country cottage, the perfect hideaway to escape Christmas and write his latest crime thriller.

However, there is a catch. A mysterious ghostly presence haunts his new home, and it’s not long before Jeremy finds the calm of his writer’s retreat thrown into chaos and mayhem, as the characters in his book unexpectedly take on a life of their own.

Kindred Spirits is produced by the critically acclaimed and award-winning team behind Hound of the Baskervilles, Cinderella & The Invisible Man.

Kindred Spirits
Presented by The Jack Studio Theatre
Tues 14 December – Saturday 8 January
Brockley Jack Studio Theatre, 410 Brockley Road, London, SE4 2DH
https://brockleyjack.co.uk/

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