Bury St Edmunds.
by Michael Punter.
Theatre Royal 8 Westgate Street IP33 1QR To 25 February 2012.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed, Fri, Sat 2pm.
Runs 2hr One interval.
TICKETS: 01284 769505.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 17 February.
Good ingredients don’t come to the boil.
Plenty of ingredients are here for a fine ghostly chiller. Victorian London – best of all – late Victorian London, land of deerstalkers and peasoupers. A room in a theatre, haunt of many a ghost. And a theatre inhabited by the most famous actor of the age and his equally famous theatre manager.
This is the Lyceum, home to Henry Irving, whose celebrity went beyond theatregoers, and the man who finally made theatre respectable, becoming the first theatrical knight.
The manager is Bram Stoker, who also wrote novels, and Stagefright author Michael Punter has some good fun at the sources he’s using – including a seriously overdue volume from Whitby Library – in researching his novel Dracula.
It isn’t vampires causing concern late this winter’s night in 1894, but a ghost somehow deduced to be that of a minor actor, though the spirit turns out – unsurprisingly in view of its anonymous, cloaked and masked manifestation – not quite who they think. To say more would be unfair to anyone seeing the play. And it needs all the shocks and surprises it has on offer.
One problem is the casting. Jonathan Keeble is a fine actor, as he’s previously demonstrated at the Theatre Royal, and he handles the script well. But his imposing presence is the opposite of Irving’s.
Part of the Victorian star’s power laid in a temperament that stormed stalls and galleries from a comparatively small physique, while the historical Stoker was more robust in stature. Here, Barry Ward is a smaller figure flitting around the great man like an attendant flea, even when asserting himself.
But the main problem lies in a script that, despite some humour and decent plot elements, lacks urgency and conviction. Outside moments of direct attack by the supernatural, the dialogue is desultory and meandering. So both characters become bland, with most of their talk seeming authorial diversions, draining any sense of urgency from the action.
Colin Blumenau’s production rightly gives scope to the ghostly moments on Kerry Bradley’s crowded set, with shocks, surprises and some laughter until the final, fine surprise brings a measure of explanation.
Henry Irving: Jonathan Keeble.
Bram Stoker: Barry Ward.
Director: Colin Blumenau.
Designer: Kerry Bradley.
Lighting: Joshua Carr.
Sound: Lawrence Chichon.
Illusionist: Ben Hart.