Writer: Adrian Rawlins, from the book by Emma Carroll
Director: Marieke Audsley
Emma Carroll’s novel, Frost Hollow Hall, has been described as “a ghostly tale about love, loss and forgiveness” – and that’s about right! There are ghosts and a haunted manor house, but East Riding Theatre’s production is not especially frightening, though the shock of sudden screams, smashing crockery and falling objects produces a temporary frisson. Instead the supernatural points the way to understanding of the past and reconciliation for the bereaved.
The novel is told in the 1st person by young Tilly Higgins and Adrian Rawlins’ adaptation preserves some sense of that, especially in the mysterious episodes following her near-drowning, beautifully narrated by Jo Patmore. Tilly, the sort of girl who used to be called headstrong and is now dubbed feisty, has gone skating and boldly ventures onto thin ice. As she goes under, she is rescued by a youth so beautiful that she takes him for an angel, but it soon becomes apparent that he is the ghost of Kit Barrington, heir to the neighbouring Frost Hollow Hall, drowned in the same lake ten years previously. Tilly’s attempts – ultimately successful – to uncover the truth of Kit’s last days take her into a tempestuous spell as junior house-maid at the hall before old truths are told and old wounds healed.
Rawlins’ script and Marieke Audsley’s lively direction seem understandably keen to project a spirit of jollity. Transferring the action to Christmas with the maids singing carols fits well, but the kitchen Charleston to the tune of The Darktown Strutters’ Ball is an oddity in the middle of a ghost story set in Victorian times. No matter – it’s fun and well done, with the comically bewildered Tilly trying to keep up with all the frantic mopping and bopping.
There are some dislocations of tone in the production and the final denouement is all too easy, but the whole thing is made convincing by the exceptional performance of Jo Patmore as Tilly. Radiating sincerity – and effortlessly amusing at times – she makes us identify with her aspirations and dilemmas and accept as credible the unlikely tale that unfolds.
Other characters tend to begin as Victorian stereotypes and reveal their humanity and individuality as time passes. Annie Kirkman (Mrs. Jessop) and Sara Beharell (Lady Barrington) begin as the epitome of the domineering house-keeper and the perpetually mourning mother, but the performances grow in depth and subtlety. Similarly Clive Kneller’s Mr. Phelps, the dignified butler to the manner born, adds a pleasing eccentricity.
Alice Gold, Hannah Levy and Louise Willoughby are well-matched and entertaining as maids and cook, with Gold delivering an adept double with Madame Martineau the medium and the other two effective as Tilly’s mother and sister. Charlie Beck, on his professional stage debut, is a sympathetic Will.
As ever at the East Riding Theatre, the staging is a matter of wonder given the wingless platform available. Under Simon Bedwell’s evocative lighting Brad Caleb Lee’s elegant interior/exterior of Frost Hollow Hall is a suitable background to a set that overflows into the auditorium with trees and lace cloths, while Audsley manoeuvres stage groupings with great skill and finds ways to make entrances and exits varied and credible.
Runs until January 2nd 2022