A WARNING TO THE CURIOUS
by M R James
Nunkie Theatre Company Tour to 7 March 2010*.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 12 February at The Commemoration Hall Huntingdon.
Armchair pleasure and terror.
There’s been so much electricity around for so long, it can be hard to realise what the night can be like without it. But in a darkened space RM Lloyd Parry’s pairing of ghostly tales by Montague Rhodes James are performed by the fragile light of candles. The face alters dramatically as profile or angles are silhouetted, arm gestures can seem terrifying in the story context, as Lloyd Parry relates two of James’ ghostly tales, bringing strange phenomena and implied motivations into the world of clerics and academics.
James wrote a story each year from the late Victorian period to the start of the 1930s. These two are set a good century apart. Lost Hearts takes place in a large house during 1811-1812, where a householder welcomes an orphan relative in a scenario related to Hansel & Gretel, though tricked out with James’ atmospheric classical and medieval iconography.
It’s followed by the title story, set around Aldeburgh (called Seaburgh) on the Suffolk coast. Unlike Hearts no specific year is given, but it’s apparently set around the First World War, intensifying references to three crowns that protect against German invasion. James gradually heightens tension as unaccountable events happen amidst the ordinary.
Lloyd Parry remains a master of theses pieces (this is his third such pairing), employing hearty factual recall that alters to puzzled gestures like a hand scratching the forehead, and rising rapidity of speech and nervous tone contrasting the safe solidity of the leather armchair and whisky decanter from which he pours measures to be audible slurped as his storyteller calms himself. Speech patterns become jagged, phrases having the provisional air of a mind engaging with re-awakened uncertainties and fear.
I noted in Oh Whistle… a resort to high-pitched speech, which can seem over-mannered and tonally restrictive. It affects the first piece here, though hardly A Warning itself. In other ways, he is admirable, aware the stories have their own mystery and concentrating on relating events as if they had just happened, or were happening right now, rather than sludging them down by ponderously re-creating what’s already in the writing.
13 Feb 7.30pm Swan Theatre Worcester 01905 611427.
19 Feb 8pm Quay Theatre Sudbury 01787 374745.
20 Feb 7.30pm Garrick Theatre (Studio) Lichfield 01543 412121 www.lichfieldgarrick.com
27 Feb 8pm Bath Masonic Hall 01225 463362 www.bathfest.org.uk
3 March 8pm Lincoln Drill Hall 01522 873894 www.lincolndrillhall.com
5 March 7.30pm Granary Theatre Wells-Next-The-Sea 01328 710193.
6 March 7.30pm King’s Lynn Arts Centre 01553 764864 www.kingslynnarts.co.uk
7 March 8pm Hemingford Grey Manor 01480 463134.
* Further dates may be added. Also touring are two other M R James double-bills, A Pleasing Terror and Oh, Whistle…. Details: www.nunkie.co.uk