EDITH IN THE DARK
by Philip Meeks.
Harrogate Theatre (Studio) T0 5 January 2014.
2pm 27, 29 Dec, 2 Jan.
2.45pm 21, 28 Dec, 4 Jan.
7pm 20, 22, 23, 27, 30 Dec, 2, 3, 5 Jan.
7.45pm 21, 28 Dec, 4 Jan.
Runs 1hr 55min One interval.
TICKETS: 01423 502116.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 18 December.
Ghostly tales and biographical revelations under the eaves.
Ascend to the very top of Harrogate Theatre’s Victorian staircase and you will come to an attic; the kind of place where, in 1900, and especially at midnight on Christmas Eve, all manner of strange secrets might be revealed.
Here meet Mrs Bland, a lady forceful and passionate, combining asperity and physical passion. Not at all bland. In her books she eschewed her married name, and disguised her sex, being known as E. Nesbit. Philip Meeks’ new play shows Edith as harsh on other ghost writers of her late Victorian and Edwardian days, denouncing M R James and Bram Stoker (thereby seeing off part of Harrogate’s late winter programme).
Desire is replaced by disgust when she learns the man she discovers in her attic, come to see the child whose fall he broke earlier, is a fan of her books. If that seems ungrateful the reason becomes clear, as does the reason her writing life began with the ghost stories sampled in this play.
They start as readings but take over the stage, while Edith’s reading of a famous incident in The Railway Children takes an X-rated branch-line more attuned to her inner turmoil than the published account. Her happier stories are designed to keep her demons from infecting a new generation.
It’s a cunning combination, Nesbit’s ghost stories being acted and the growing sense of a super-story Edith puzzles about through the name of her visitor. Her control slips here and things automatically accepted by the audience as part of theatrical convention take on a new aspect.
Meeks does his duty by the tingled spine in a sudden visceral Woman in Black manner near the start and a more Sixth Sense mental realisation later on.
He also shows the person under the laced exterior and the anxieties that lie behind the fictions in Nesbit. Blue Merrick’s nerve-ending confidence of manner is suitably contrasted by the suavely compliant manner Scott Ellis presents in visiting the sick, and Janet Amsden’s fussily contented servant, in a production by Keith Hukin which slowly ratchets the situation from everyday tension to the fearfully inexplicable.
Mr Guasto: Scott Ellis.
Edith Nesbit: Blue Merrick.
Biddy Thricefold: Janet Amsden.
Director: Keith Hukin.
Designer: Alex Swarbrick.
Sound: Gerrard Fletcher.