MORSE: HOUSE OF GHOSTS
by Alma Cullen.
Tour to 4 December 2010.
Runs 2hr 25min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 1 September at Gordon Craig Theatre Stevenage.
Much that’s familiar in a play where the plot’s the thing.
With Oxford police inspector Morse already well-known from Colin Dexter’s novels and famous in John Thaw’s TV incarnation, Alma Cullen’s script (which tells a new story) rightly includes familiar details – the beer, the missed home-cooking of Sergeant Lewis’s wife as Lewis receives a dollop of instant overtime. Such matters are dropped-in aptly, and never over-insistently.
Morse loves Wagner, but here he listens to Schubert; it seems to point-up the difference between Thaw and Colin Baker’s Morse. Though he’s bullish, without (until the very end) reflective moments, this inspector lays himself more open for inspection.
Set in the mid-1980s, Cullen’s play incorporates events from a quarter-century before when Morse and others were Oxford students (she also points-out the technological revolution since the eighties, when computers were new and mobile ‘phones non-existent). Her back-story helps the play incorporate something significant from Dexter’s novels – the problems arising when Morse breaches his reiterated insistence on keeping personal relations and police business separate.
Robin Herford’s production successfully handles details, such as identifying people in an old photograph, which are difficult to deal with on stage. The double solution, when it comes, might be a bit clearer, judging by some mystified conversations on the way out. If the opening throws a lot of action at the audience, the final section requires close attention to the intricate plot.
The short scenes reflect both a TV structure and the short chapters of Dexter’s novels, and Herford mostly handles the set-changes smoothly. Yet the need to tell a detailed tale, with audiences’ prior knowledge of the Morse world, means the characters don’t develop with full dramaatic richness – the play’s flash-bang theatrical opening showing Hamlet soliloquising, points-up by contrast that narrative theatre doesn’t usually do inwardness.
With Paul Wills’ set serving to create the atmosphere of Oxford Colleges and Catholic churches – both germane to the plot – as well as the stage-set for Hamlet which it initially is, the evening is one for those who’ve worn-out their Morse videos, don’t think TV’s Lewis is quite the same – and are prepared to go with minds in crossword mode, razor-sharp for clues.
Morse: Colin Baker.
Lawrence Baxter: David Acton.
Lewis: Andrew Bone.
Paul Kincaid: Paul Clarkson.
Ellen Underwood: Lynette Edwards.
Justin Harris: Gregory Finnegan.
Philip Woolf: John Fleming.
Harriet Baxter: Caroline Harding.
Freddie Malveno: Christopher Heyward.
Rebecca Downey: Rachel Logan.
Grace Friel: Judith Rae.
Verity Carr: Gay Soper.
Strange: Glynn Sweet.
Ruth Jonson: Nicole Ashwood.
Daniel Granger: Richard Stirling.
Director: Robin Herford.
Designer: Paul Wills.
Lighting: Matthew Eagland.
Sound: Glen Hadley.