Tales Of The Unseen

Nunkie Theatre Company
The Ash Tree
Ghost stories by M.R. James
Walker Theatre 24/10/12

It was an inquisitive audience that poured into the Walker Theatre tonight to watch the Nunkie Theatre Company’s presentation of two of the M.R. James Trilogy of Ghost Tales. Inquisative because if they were going on what the press releases had given away they would have had no inkling how these rather obscure stories were to be presented.

The Ash Tree and Oh whistle, and I’ll come to you, my lad were the two stories that were to be told. As audience members entered they saw an elderly gentleman sat centre stage surrounded by books and clues telling us that he was a learned gentleman, to his stage left there was a small table with the ephemera of a late night story telling session. There was a decanter of whisky, a candelabra with lit candles and a small jug. Initially one would imagine these candles to be electric but in fact they weren’t, they were the real thing as was the candle on a tall holder to his stage right. All very attractive to set the scene but one was intrigued as to how the lighting for the show might develop.

Faced by the difficult quandary of too much light pouring onto the stage, which may shatter the mood, or too little, which would conceal the actor and his gestures from the audience, the wrong choice was made, consequently the actor related his tale on a stage so dimly lit it was distracting. Sadly because the gentleman on his chair was centre stage, anyone sitting on the first two rows to his stage left saw very little of him because of the glare of the candle light.

Had that just been the lighting state during the setting of the story one might have found it acceptable, however to employ it all the way through the tale showed an error of judgement and little understanding of the essential visual dialogue needed between audience and actor.

The setting for the story was skilfully described as being in coastal Suffolk somewhere around Aldeburgh, one would imagine. Then began the story proper.

Whilst displaying an incredible skill for learning dialogue and an even more acute brilliance at characterisation, the show remained static. It was soon clear that this was to be simply an old man telling a story in his chair. He told it wonderfully well but the story sadly was dull. Maybe television has spoilt us with the horror genre reaching new heights, maybe not. Perhaps it was because this performance was so static and told in a language almost alien to us now, that of Victorian parlance, that the piece for some audience members would have been difficult to engage with.

It was drearily arid; the performance reminded one of an avuncular teacher relating some classics whilst his charges merely fiddled at the back waiting for the bell. Not that the audience were fiddling around at the back, however perhaps a few might have been tempted.

You could have be forgiven for wondering if the actor Roger Lloyd Parry might be tempted at any time to bring his vocals down a little from the Top C that he employed. One might use that tone to represent surprise or astonishment but the most prosaic of phrases were related to us in this almost whining note leaving him nowhere else to go when he wanted to introduce the element of surprise.

If a play like this is to occupy such a space it really would have benefitted from some movement. It would be interesting on radio or maybe even with some sound effects to accompany the telling. But to sit in one position simply relating a tale is not very interesting. Possibly had there been another actor simply listening to the tale and occasionally interjecting with his questions and observations it might have made it slightly less dusty and dry. It would have doubled the bill for staffing issues but it would be worth it for artistic reasons.

The Ash Tree was the first presentation, prior to the interval; I believe there was another story after it?

This is a two star review.

 

Section:

Owen Lewis Owen Lewis

Owen Lewis was born fifty something years ago in the land of the black puddings. For the geographically challenged that is in Lancashire. Moving to Shropshire From 1970 Owen was brought up in Church Stretton. His first real job was in radio. After starting on BBC Radio Shropshire he became known on Marcher Sound, broadcasting throughout the North West for several years. After a university degree course in Theatre, Owen became an actor and went on to play "Pirate Bill" in The Alton Towers Hotel. He also made several television appearances. Returning to university he took his PGCE enabling him to teach. That saw him on the Essex coast as a drama teacher and latterly as a Creative Educational Liaison Officer making films and creating new teaching methods to employ on children in need of more help in their fundamental learning skills. Published playwright Owen ultimately wants a house boat in Amsterdam to focus on his work as Playwright and Poet.

Read More from Owen Lewis