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M R James: Ghost Stories for Christmas – Review

Robert Lloyd Parry as M R James - credit Shelagh Bidwell
Robert Lloyd Parry as M R James – credit Shelagh Bidwell

For some reason, Christmas and ghost stories seem to fit together very well – think Charles Dickens and ‘A Christmas Carol’. One of the best writers of such stories is currently having his work celebrated as Nunkie Theatre Company bring M R James: Ghost Stories for Christmas to The Old Red Lion Theatre in Islington.

Over three nights, Robert Lloyd Parry sits, the epitome of a late nineteenth/early twentieth century Cambridge don, and recounts six of Montague Rhodes James atmospheric stories. The two I saw were “Canon Alberic’s Scrap-Book” and “The Mezzotint”. Although the show was completely sold out, with audience members sitting on the steps around the stage, there was barely a hint of sound as the intro music – a gentle Elizabethan style singing by a countertenor which put me in mind of the closing credits number from Blackadder II – faded out and the lights went down. This silence lasted as Robert came onto the stage and sat by a table – laid for a gentleman’s post dinner

A Pleasing Terror
A Pleasing Terror

refreshment with whisky and water – and lit his candles. This was the only illumination throughout the performance and really added to the atmosphere as strange shadows danced gently on the walls of the room. Robert is a consummate storyteller and has a wonderful voice that conveys every scintilla of emotion out of the stories as he sits, a gentle figure in the candlelight occasionally sipping on his whisky.

There isn’t really much more I can tell you about the performance as each show is going to be two different stories. What I can say is that this was my first encounter with M R James’ work and, both stories had me and the audience around me completely transfixed. In fact the first one “Canon Alberic’s Scrap-Book” rather shook me up a bit. Well let’s be honest, it scared the willies out of me. By the end of the evening I really felt as if I had spent an intimate evening with M R James, being told his stories and, as the lights went back up and the music re-started, it initially seemed odd that there were so many other people sitting there as well.

To sum up then, M R James: Ghost Stories for Christmas is a fantastic combination of a terrific storywriter and superb storyteller that grabs your attention and refuses to let it go until you are completely hooked and find yourself back at home sleeping with the lights on.

5 Star Rating

Review by Terry Eastham


The tradition of the yuletide ghost story probably goes back centuries. But it arguably reached its highpoint in Cambridge, around 1900, when Montague Rhodes James performed his uniquely chilling tales to friends in Kings College.

Now, over a century after their first publication, Nunkie Theatre Company have bought six of the eeriest and most entertaining of these masterpieces back to life in three gripping, critically acclaimed one-man shows.




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