Writers: Olivia Jacobs and Toby Mitchell from the novella by Oscar Wilde
Director: Olivia Jacobs and Toby Mitchell
Reviewer: Selwyn Knight
Sir Simon de Canterville is having a hard time of it. Everyone wrongly believes he bludgeoned his beloved wife to death based on some flimsy evidence involving a bloodstained tablecloth. Even worse, he’s been dead for 300 years and unable to rest in peace until his story is well told. Since his death, he’s been haunting Canterville House and making an excellent job of it, scaring away all who have crossed its threshold. Everyone, that is, until the Otis family, owners of the fine store, Otis and Co, arrive. They find the ghostly goings-on more of an irritant than anything, suggesting that he use some of their patent oil to lubricate and quieten his chains, for example. They bring fine cleaning products to bear on the bloodstained tablecloth – although the stain does seem to keep mysteriously returning. They even poke fun at him. But eventually, Virginia, one of the Otis twins, realises why he is unable to rest and through her empathy is able to bring him release.
In Tall Stories’ adaptation, its first for an adult audience for many years, the story is told by four music hall artists, a conjuror, a comic and (distinctly adult) ventriloquist, a mind-reader and a singing master of ceremonies. The story-telling is interspersed with their acts: it’s not immediately obvious why this device has been chosen and one could be forgiven for thinking, at the beginning at any rate, that it is merely a gimmick. But there is a moral at the heart of the comedic Canterville Ghost that they present and their presence does serve to reinforce that. There’s also some fine magic on offer that helps with the storytelling, even if the sequence with the mind-reader is maybe a touch long.
Our suave MC is Stephen Sublime (Steve McCourt), who also doubles as wide-boy Mr Otis. He demonstrates a fine singing voice and sincere attitude (as Sublime) as he curates our experience. Tom Jude takes on the rôle of the conjuror with some nice tricks and sleight of hand, while also playing the eponymous ghost, his increasing frustration becoming ever clearer. Lauren Silver is the playful mind-reader and Victoria Otis, switching between the two personae with ease, even if her conversion to sincere friend to the ghost is maybe a bit abrupt. The naturally funny Matt Jopling is the ventriloquist in charge of the foul-mouthed dummy in a memorable vent act.
Lively direction from Olivia Jacobs and Toby Mitchell maintains the pace, with movement around the stage slick and well-choreographed, assisted by simple and effective design from Barney George. The original songs, from Jon Fiber and Andy Shaw, evoke the music hall era well as well as supporting the story-telling on stage.
Overall, the show is greatly entertaining with laughs coming thick and fast but also a more serious message about the transience and worth of existence. Full of artistry and surprises, The Canterville Ghost is a great antidote to cold dark nights and well worth catching.
Runs Until 30 December 2018 | Image: Tall Stories