Monday, 19 June 2017

The Haunting, June 16, 2017 ***

Adapted by Hugh Janes from Charles Dickens, by Prince Moo Productions 
At Athenaeum Theatre, Melbourne, until July 1, 2017 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts Online on Monday June 19, 2017 & later in print. KH
Gig Clarke & Cameron Daddo
‘I wants to make your flesh creep’, says a character in Charles Dickens’ Pickwick Papers, and Hugh Janes followed this advice when creating The Haunting, a stage adaptation of five of Dickens’ ghost stories.

The Haunting is a very conventional play with echoes of an Agatha Christie mystery merged with an old-fashioned, scary story about two men and a ghost, all set in the musty, dusty library of an isolated, English manor house.

The play is entertaining bunkum that may not raise the hairs on your neck, but it will provide a few giggles and remind you that Dickens spun a good yarn and that ancient, empty houses are always a bit spooky.

David Filde (Gig Clarke), a young, London book-dealer, travels to Lord Gray’s (Cameron Daddo) remote mansion to value His Lordship’s deceased father’s extensive, antique book collection.

Filde begins his seemingly routine task making an inventory of the books, but it becomes clear that all is not what it seems and that an unhappy, supernatural presence occupies the grumbling house.

The dialogue has the formal style of Dickens’ prose, and Clarke and Daddo make the most of the evocative language of the storytelling as their two characters try to comprehend their alarming circumstances.

Daddo is dignified and cool as the sceptical Lord Gray, although he lacks the plum-in-the-mouth accent and aristocratic demeanour that defines such a lord of the manor.

Clarke’s Filde is boyishly naive and seems terrified and mystified by the antics of the house and its ghostly resident, until Filde reveals his secrets in the final scenes.

Jennifer Sarah Dean’s production relies on myriad sound and lighting effects (Kyle Evans, Jason Bovaird) that include thunder and lightning, creaking floors, distant horses hooves, blood-curdling screams and eerie twilights.

Dusty volumes fly off the heavily laden shelves, candles spontaneously light, doors mysteriously lock and a wraithlike, corpse bride (Tehya Nicholas) materialises in the deceased Lord Gray’s favourite armchair.

While John Kerr’s stage design beautifully reproduces a grand library, its clutter reduces the available performance space and, combined with Dean’s static direction, forces the actors to stand and deliver their dialogue with limited stage action.

The production needs a greater sense of urgency, more dynamic range and varied pace to heighten its spookiness, and the characters’ fears need to be palpable to fully absorb and titillate a modern audience.

Perhaps the electrifying terror of 21st century horror movies has spoiled our ability to be frightened by a simple ghost story, but The Haunting takes us back to some old-style, round-the-campfire, ghost storytelling.

By Kate Herbert

No comments:

Post a Comment