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Mystery House by Wendy Weiner at Edinburgh Fringe

You don’t need to know a single thing about the Winchester Mystery House, in San Jose, California (and not in Hampshire, southern England) – Wendy Weiner explains in sufficient detail. I almost said ‘all’, but she doesn’t explain all, because to do so would, in her own estimation, be boring, and in any event, Sarah Winchester (1839-1922), for which the mystery house was named, was a private person who largely kept herself to herself, so there’s a lot about her that shall remain unknown in perpetuity.

Edinburgh Fringe - Mystery House
Edinburgh Fringe – Mystery House

Quite why it is a tourist attraction is partly because of its sheer scale, and partly because of its unusual and often asymmetrical design – for instance, there was at least one staircase that went right up to a ceiling but nothing else, which Weiner referred to as ‘the stairs to nowhere’. Such pointlessness was down to Winchester’s belief, quite absurd by contemporary standards, that ghosts and evil spirits had conspired to kill her and consign her to an eternity in Hell, if she ever stopped construction work on her house. Weird constructions, like a door that, if opened, would plunge anyone who walked through several storeys, were meant to confuse the ghosts and ghoulies should they ever turn up at the house.

As Weiner explains, beliefs in the supernatural were commonplace in America at the time, although most people, their financial situation being what it was, had no choice but to accept their fate. She does find a parallel between Winchester’s story and her own truth, albeit in the near-universal realm of loss and bereavement. Even then, there are substantial differences. Winchester had inherited a fortune after the death of her husband, which allowed her to build her mansion. As for Weiner, well, she doesn’t have a mansion – she shows the audience various photos of the Winchester Mystery House but not a single one of her own humble abode. Fair enough: if I were to do a show about a quirky mansion, would I want to bother showing people pictures of my two-up, two-down as well? No.

The show goes beyond being a documentary-style stage show about an eccentric house built by an eccentric woman, showing how grief and loss is something that affects us all, regardless of status or income level. Wendy Weiner is an engaging storyteller, bringing charm and light-hearted wit to a curious and multi-storied (sorry) narrative.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

A massive, maze-like house… Staircases that lead nowhere… A séance room… Construction that never stopped…

In 1884, following the death of her husband and child, Sarah Winchester purchased an unfinished farmhouse in Northern California. And then she started building: 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for 38 years. The resulting mansion is known as the Winchester Mystery House — one of the most haunted houses in America and one of the state’s most popular tourist attractions.

This is a play about that house – An enigmatic yet lighthearted tale of spirits, grief and obsessio

US Fringe Management
The World Premiere of
a one-woman play
written and performed by Wendy Weiner
directed by Ryan Amador
August 2nd– 28th 2023

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