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Oscar Wilde’s The Canterville Ghost at Southwark Playhouse

Tall Stories are a wonderful theatre company that clearly love everything about live performance. Founded 25 years ago Tall Stories was created by Olivia Jacobs and Toby Mitchell. Unusually they both write and direct. They clearly have a very strong and dynamic relationship. During their 25-year partnership, they have created 31 shows, including five adaptations of books by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. Their latest production is a brilliant adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s novella The Canterville Ghost of 1887. They are unashamedly entertainers and see their mission as bringing fun and laughter to cheer their audiences up. They have done just that with this sparkling new take on The Canterville Ghost. It’s a hit. I can’t recommend it highly enough. You will have a great night at the theatre.

Oscar Wilde's The Canterville GhostWhat Tall Stories have done very cleverly is to frame Wilde’s play as if it were a turn within a Victorian music hall evening’s entertainment. Our compere for the evening is the pianist, singer and actor Stephen Sublime (Steve Watts, exquisite). He holds everything together from the onstage piano interweaving alternate scenes from the play and the music hall turns of which there are three. So we get a scene from the play followed immediately by a turn from the music hall. It works very well. The evening is rich with fun, puns, slapstick knockabout, physical comedy and visual gags. The three turns are provided by Matt Jopling as the comedian and ventriloquist. Callum Patrick Hughes as an illusionist and magician. And Katie Tranter as the psychic. All three are superb at what they do. All four also reappear within seconds as characters from the play The Canterville Ghost. Steve Watts as Hiram B. Otis the new owner of Canterville Hall. Katie plays his daughter Virginia and Matt plays his son Washington. Callum plays both the housekeeper Mrs Umney and the Ghost. The changes are done with extraordinary dexterity and finesse. The beauty of the double time scale, as it were, allows us to absorb the plot of the play with the music hall turns acting as amusing bonus material.

Stephen Sublime our compere sets the tone for the evening’s entertainment by lighting a match and reminding us that like the match we burn brightly for a brief moment and then disappear into smoke. So we should laugh and enjoy our time here. It is this urge to carpe diem which gives this production its effervescence, vim and zest. This is all the more remarkable given how few resources Tall Stories have at their disposal. A black auditorium with red curtains sets the colour scheme for both the ghost story plot and the Victorian Music Hall. Scene changes are indicated by doors on wheels with red curtains. Through and around these doors the performers come and go creating now a scene from the play now a music hall act. It’s utterly spellbinding. The sound design is mesmerising. All the sound effects we associate with haunted houses are vividly realised. The lighting captures every nuance of the plot. The props pop up from the Mary Poppins-like bag with hilarious ridiculousness. Watch out for the candelabra.

The three music hall acts are highly impressive. Callum the illusionist is as good as any professional magician. He has the complete repertoire at his fingertips. Matt has Chaplineseque quality to his routine and his ventriloquist routine is as good as Roy Hull and Emu. Kate as the psychic is a match for Jennifer Saunders as a Madame Arcati type. Callum gives a master class in comic character acting in his portrayal of the caustic housekeeper Mrs Umney. His apostrophising of the delights of fruit cake is the highlight of the evening. If you like to be entertained by performers who live for the stage then look no further than The Canterville Ghost.

5 Star Rating

Review by John O’Brien

When the Otis family move into Canterville Hall, they’re warned about the fearsome ghost that stalks its corridors. But the Otis family are a thoroughly modern bunch – has anyone warned the Canterville Ghost about them?

Cast The Comedian Matt Jopling
The Illusionist Callum Patrick Hughes
The Psychic Katie Tranter
The Compere Steve Watts

Director Olivia Jacobs
Co-Director Toby Mitchell
Designer Barney George
Lighting Designer Peter Harrison
Music & Lyrics Jon Fiber & Andy Shaw (with the company) for jollygoodtunes
Movement Director Morag Cross
Magic Supervisor Scott Penrose
Costume Supervisor Martin Rodges

Oscar Wilde’s gloriously ghoulish
The Canterville Ghost
Tuesday 11th October – Saturday 5th November 2022
Southwark Playhouse, 77-84 Newington Causeway, London SE1 6BD

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  • John OBrien

    JOHN O’BRIEN born in London in 1960 is a born and bred Londoner. His mother was an illiterate Irish traveller. His early years were spent in Ladbroke Grove. He was born at number 40 Lancaster Road. In 1967 the family was rehoused in Hackney. He attended Brooke House School for Boys in Clapton, - as did Lord Sugar. He became head boy and was the first person in his family to make it to university, gaining a place at Goldsmiths College in 1978. He took a degree in Sociology and a PGCE . From 1982 until 1993 he taught at schools in Hackney and Richmond. In 1984-85 he attended Bristol University where he gained a Diploma in Social Administration. From 1985 until 1989 he studied part-time in the evenings for a degree in English Literature at Birkbeck College. He stayed on at Birkbeck from 1990-1992 to study for an MA in Modern English Literature. He left teaching in 1993 and has worked as a tutor, researcher, writer and tour guide. He leads bespoke guided tours on London’s history, art , architecture and culture. He has attended numerous courses at Oxford University - Exeter College, Rewley House & Kellogg College. In London, he attends courses at Gresham College, The National Gallery, The British Museum, The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, The British Academy and The Royal Society. Read the latest London theatre reviews by all reviewers.

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