Writer/Director: Joe O’Byrne
Reviewer: Matt Forrest
The clocks have gone forward, the nights are getting lighter, spring is well and truly sprung; however, there is still a slight chill in the air. Could it be an icy north breeze? Or could it be the goings-on at the Hope Mill Theatre, as it hosts the supernatural shocker The Haunting of Blaine Manor.
Set in 1953, we are transported to Blaine Manor: a typically British stately home where all is not what it seems. Gathered, are the great and the not so good of the paranormal and psychic world. In attendance are: Scarabus, a world-renowned medium, Cairo, a devious medium, and Vivian, a feisty investigative journalist hot on the trail of a scoop. To counter this we have Dr Roy Earle, a paranormal investigator, renowned throughout the world for exposing charlatans and ‘fakers’. Finally we have Vincent, the shady custodian of Blaine Manor, and his butler, Grady. With all the guests in attendance, trying to get the measure of one another, we learn that the planned séance has been cancelled, due the mysterious death of a noted figure in the psychic world. As the evening progresses we see Dr Earle fall deeper and deeper into dispair; is it the curse of Blaine Manor or his own personal demons that are plaguing Dr Earle?
The Haunting of Blaine Manor is a well crafted, enjoyable production. It boasts a fantastic, intriguing story by writer Joe O’Byrne that keeps you hooked from start to finish. It harks back to the golden age of cinema, with more than a ‘tip of the hat’ to movies such as House on Haunted Hill and the J.B Priestly play An Inspector Calls. The script is littered with clues and red-herrings, enough to keep you guessing right to the very end, building to a satisfying and original finale.
The assembled cast is on the whole strong, with just a few opening night nerves and jitters peeking though, but these are minor quibbles. Peter Slater is impressive, and his central performance as Earle anchors the production. Slater is rarely off stage and conveys fully Earle’s decent into madness. Haydock adds a touch of glamour and spirit to the production as Vivian while O’Byrne as Grady gives a sinister turn as the mysterious butler whose presence looms over the production from the moment the character is introduced.
As well as the wonderful script, the production is aided and abetted by an exceptional sound design by Justin Wetherill: the haunting score and storm soundscape provide an icy chill and the feeling of claustrophobia. Finally, the choice of venue is inspired; the Hope Mill Theatre is a cracking venue: a former cotton mill, the setting was perfect for the play, with its old brickwork and a chill in the air. It is as much a character in the play as any of the actors.
Overall this is an enjoyable evening out and this production is highly recommend.By the way, blankets are provided, either to keep you warm or hide behind… the choice is yours!
Reviewed on 9April 2016 | Image: Contributed