Writer/Director: Joe O’Byrne
Sound/Music: Justin Wetherill
Lighting: David Heald
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
Hallowe’en at Whitby, home to the Dracula legend, should have been the perfect creepy setting for The Haunting of Blaine Manor, but at the half way stage, despite some dramatic sound effects and narration of supernatural events in England’s most haunted house, calm still reigned among the audience in the Whitby Pavilion. By the end, however, after a last half hour that ingeniously twisted all our preconceptions, all were well involved, though chuckling as much as screaming.
For obvious reasons telling too much of the plot of The Haunting of Blaine Manor would be unfair, both to the company and to future audiences. So let’s just concentrate on the set-up. Mr. Tyler, the owner of Blaine Manor, has summoned various psychics and mediums, together with Doctor Roy Earle, American investigator and sceptic, to a séance.
Before arriving Earle’s car has had an encounter with a horse and rider (real? ghostly?) and ended up in the lake. Earle has escaped from the car, his scientific equipment is still in the lake. Under prompting from Cairo the mindreader, Tyler agreed to hold the séance a day early – and now he is ill, unable to attend. Clearly of some significance, since it is mentioned often, is the fact that Earle has been severely affected by the suicide of his wife. And, of course, outside a storm is brewing.
So we have three professional believers in the supernatural (inevitably squabbling about each other’s powers), one professional sceptic, the administrator of the Manor and a mysterious butler. Something is bound to happen, but at first it’s all rather routine for such things and imagination seems in short supply: Cairo (Andrew Yates), as camp as his namesake in The Maltese Falcon, and the really rather sensible Vivian Rutledge (Jo Haydock) needle each other and probe and dismiss the views of Doctor Earle (Peter Slater) whose hard-bitten exterior seems to conceal an equally hard-bitten interior. After a dramatic entry Adolphus Scarabus (Phil Dennison) seems less eccentric than his name and appearance suggest and Ed Barry plays the perfect host as Vincent de Lambre. By the interval the menace that seems increasingly to focus of Earle has begun to be ratcheted up by means both subtle and melodramatic, notably when Grady the butler (Joe O’Byrne) appears on the scene.
It’s in the final half-hour that The Haunting of Blaine Manor really comes into its own. Having played with the tropes of the house of horror quite effectively for some 70 minutes, O’Byrne proceeds to turn all audience expectations on their heads. Red herrings are revealed as such, reality and illusion merge in the clever integration of the supernatural and the psychological. The pace quickens, all the actors find the right style of heightened reality and surprises come thick and fast: each time the audience thinks, “So that’s what it was all about”, O’Byrne tweaks another twist.
For a play touring one-nighters production values are pretty good. There is no set as such, but Blaine Manor is attractively and convincingly furnished and Justin Wetherill and David Heald do a terrific job in the sound and fury department.
Reviewed at Whitby Pavilion on October 31, 2019 | Image: Contributed