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A CurtainUp London Review
Julian Rhind-Tutt adopts an American Southern drawl for the part of Virginia spiritualist, Dr Tom Beauregard whom Stokes consults after a visit to a house in East Sussex. Beauregard offers to investigate the strange noises and apparitions that Stokes has reported experiencing at the house so they journey from London to Sussex. Long haired, dishevelled Stokes appears to be occupied not just by the spirit apparitions as he downs glass after glass of whisky. No wonder he can see ectoplasm!
Pamela Miles is the loyal and serious housekeeper who wants to attract visitors to stay in the house but not as the twentieth century ghost experience and Vinette Robinson is Florenc the housemaid with a story of her own. I cannot reveal any more of the plot but suffice it to say that I found Darker Shores spooky but without being terrified out of my wits.
I loved Paul Farnsworth's black crepe swathed and damask draped set with almost everything painted black: just the page on the typewriter white and a few cream Church candles to offset almost total Gothic gloom. Even the mahogany chairs are upholstered in black and the normally red wood is painted black. The chandeliers swing ominously and there are other very special effects to create a frisson of fear and excitement. Sound and lighting designers have combined for some spectacular thunder and lightning, bumps from the attic and less explicable phenomenon.
The play has a fair amount of comic levity and a teeny bit of high camp to allow us to smile in between being mock-scared. Tom Goodman-Hill is masterly at the faintly ridiculous with his studied, jerky descriptions of scenes of high, but suppressed, undercurrents of emotion. Director Anthony Clark ensures that the comic vein is never allowed to dominate.
The success of the over twenty years long running Woman in Black at London's tiny Fortune Theatre has amazed many but the ghost story genre, like the other long running Agatha Christie play, has patrons returning for more even when they know the ending or the surprises. As a Christmas play with a difference, Darker Shores is very welcome, an intelligent break from the relentless pantomimes.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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