DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

The Haunting of Blaine Manor – Darlington Hippodrome

Reviewer: Jennie Eyres

Writer/Director: Joe O’Byrne

All too often ghost Stories on stage are billed as ‘terrifying’ or ‘a true horror’, with the aim seeming to be to scare the audience so greatly that the storyline simply becomes secondary. Not so with The Haunting of Blaine Manor, which is pitched to its audiences as a good old fashioned haunted house tale.

Not just any haunted house either, Blaine Manor has the unsettling reputation as the most haunted house in England, and it is here that American Parapsychologist Dr Roy Earle (Peter Slater) finds himself one stormy night along with a host of other supernatural specialists. There’s newspaper columnist Vivian Rutledge (Jo Haydock), world renowned psychic Adolphus Scarabas (Jimmy Allen), Cairo the cunning clairvoyant with a flair for the dramatic (Andrew Yates) and the custodian of the manor, Vincent de Lambré (Ed Barry). This small crew is then joined by the mysterious but loyal butler, Grady, played by Joe O’Byrne who is also the play’s author.

The story itself is a little slow to bed in, setting the scene and introducing the characters takes time and it is only at the very end of the play that it becomes clear why the set-up is quite so important. Thinking back after the super clever, twisty-turny ending, it was suddenly easy to spot the hints and clues being dropped almost from the word go.

Dr Earle arrives at the house having lost his car and all of his equipment in the lake in the grounds, having swerved to avoid a horseman on the drive up to the Manor. He is interested to hear that the local stables have in fact been empty for over 100 years and that folklore dictates that anyone who sees a horseman in the grounds of Blaine Manor will be dead by dawn. Earle is on a mission to prove that ghosts do not exist and that every instance of one is cooked up by charlatans.

All of the guests at the Manor have been invited for a séance by the mysterious owner of the Manor, Tyler, but when de Lambré arrives with the not entirely unexpected news that something terrible has happened to Tyler, things begin to get stranger and stranger.

There is little more that can be said about the plot without giving the game away, and this is a play that benefits from the secrecy that befits similar surprise-ending plays such as The Mousetrap or The Woman in Black and indeed there are definite tones of the Susan Hill classic in there. There is also a clear nod to Hammer horror along with a dash of Edgar Allen Poe and M R James for good measure.

There is much to follow in the occasionally wordy first half, but it absolutely bears sticking with, because the pay off at the end is entirely worth it.

All of the cast play their parts very cleverly indeed, and although Slater’s American accent isn’t the most convincing southern drawl ever heard, it works well enough alongside the fairly RP accents of the English characters that the differences between him and his cousins across the pond are clear and meaningful.

The last 20 minutes of this show are simply excellent. Borderline funny, on occasion tense (though never truly scary) the cast move deftly up the gears of supernatural tension then turn it on its head in an unexpected but very satisfying way. A guarantee that audiences will be discussing the ending and the clues they missed along the way all the way home.

Runs until 29th June.

The Reviews Hub Score

Clever Ghostly Tale

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The Reviews Hub - Yorkshire & North East

The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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