Halloween may be over, but the festive season is often a time for a haunting or two – think Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’. One story of things that go bump in the night is Oscar Wilde’s The Canterville Ghost currently having a spooky outing at the Unicorn Theatre.
American diplomat Hiram Otis (Nana Amoo-Gottfried) is a happy man. He works for the US State Department and lives in a nice part of New York State with his celebrated interior designer wife Lucretia (Beth Cordingly) and children – inventor Washington (Nathaniel Wade), keen gardener Virginia (Safiyya Ingar) and the mischievous film-making twins, Stars (Mae Munuo) and Stripes (Rose-Marie Christian). Their lives are good and their days are full. However, that is about to change as Hiram’s bosses have decided to post him, and therefore his family, to England. Otis crosses the pond first and sets about finding a house for the family to live in. Finally, he sets his heart on ancient Canterville Chase, family seat of Lord Canterville (Paul McEwan) and his housekeeper, the dour Mrs Umney (Annie Fitzmaurice), Whilst he wants to unload the property, Lord Canterville is an honourable English gentleman and feels he has to tell Hiram about every aspect of the house, including the presence of a ghost by the name of Sir Simon de Canterville. However, Hiram, and his family when they come over, care not a jot for ghosts and move into Canterville Chase with not a care in the world, much to the consternation of Sir Simon, who makes every effort to scare the bejesus out of the Otis’s and send them fleeing from the property in fear.
Now, I must admit to having some worries about The Canterville Ghost before I saw it. Was Oscar Wilde’s story of a man who murdered his wife and was in turn, murdered by her vengeful family, really going to be a suitable story for the usual rather young audience at the Unicorn? Well, thanks to a wonderful adaptation by Anthony Weigh, not only is it suitable but it is really fun and full of humour. There are some wonderful touches in the show, especially the adverts which don’t actually feel out of place and, thanks to John Bulleid’s magic tricks are really appreciated by the audience, whatever their age. The story has enough elements to entertain everyone and Director Justin Audibert ensures that the action moves along well.
The use of a narrator – Oscar – is a great idea and Annie Fitzmaurice has to be commended for not only her engaging personality and charm that instantly connects with the audience when in narrator mode, but also for her wonderful Scottish accent and delivery as Mrs Umney – think Private Fraser from “Dad’s Army”, but less optimistic. Another massive shout out to Paul McEwan who not only plays Lord Canterville but puts in a wonderfully over the top ‘Henry Irvingesque’ performance as the ghostly Sir Simon. This is particularly true in the second act scene when Sir Simon and Virginia have a long and quite intense scene together and, for all his uxoricidal tendencies, it is impossible not to really get to like and sympathise with the old man.
So, despite my misgivings, The Canterville Ghost turned out to be utterly brilliant. The Unicorn have taken a classic story and brought it to life for a new generation in fabulous style. This is a real family show, which not only entertains all ages but, hopefully starts some of the younger members of the audience on a journey of reading and appreciating the works of our greatest writers.
Review by Terry Eastham
This frighteningly funny and delightfully spooky retelling of Oscar Wilde’s comic novel is bought to life this Christmas with spine-tingling magic, spectacular illusions and ghoulish effects.
Mr and Mrs Otis and their boisterous children arrive from America to move into Canterville Chase – a rather old, rather creepy Gothic mansion. Of course, like all the best old mansions, the Chase comes with its own ghost – the rather tormented Sir Simon Canterville. The spectral knight does his very best to spook the trespassers from his ancestral home, but to no avail. Poor Sir Simon feels utter despair until he meets the young Virginia Otis who sees him for who is really is.
This is a warming winter treat that the whole family will enjoy.
OSCAR WILDE’S THE CANTERVILLE GHOST
Adapted by Anthony Weigh
Directed by Justin Audibert
Designed by Rosie Elnile
Lighting design by Prema Mehta
Composed and sound designed by Ed Lewis
Magic by John Bulleid
Movement Direction by Simon Pittman
Sunday 10 November 2019 – Sunday 5 January 2020