The Canterville Ghost

Fri 3rd – Fri 10th August 2012

reviews

Davina Moss

at 09:44 on 5th Aug 2012

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Machinist Theatre, a new young theatre company, adapt Oscar Wilde’s short story ‘The Canterville Ghost’ for the studio at Greenside. Reaching this venue is an experience in its own right, but with the right mindset around the production, you won’t be disappointed.

The company use a devised, narrative style in which the limited ensemble cast multi-role fluidly to play a large cast of characters and narrate alongside. It’s very rough around the edges, and the uniform of black costumes and little set echoed of A-level drama, as did the astonishing youthfulness of the cast. Clever use of a bag of clothes as a series of props and costumes also give this play a somewhat thrown-together feel. But performed with a self-aware comedy which had Wilde’s knowing style all over it, there’s more to this than a school production – the roughness adds to the storytelling trope and helps us view the play as more of a parable than a simple tale.

Sweet and bright, the hour featured universally good performances, and although the cast performed as an ensemble and roles were often not named, each individual was given a moment to shine, whether it be a hilariously creepy first incarnation of the eponymous ghost, or a steal-stealing old housekeeper evoked by little more than an apron and skilled physical expression. Each performer in turn took their opportunity to evoke the ghost itself and the mix of humour and horror was achieved with practised ease. Yet despite significant strengths, at times ‘The Canterville Ghost’ felt slow, repetitive and even dull, the story itself just perhaps not interesting enough to carry it. The odd fluffed line and dodgy diction also spoilt the facade at times, and the decision to pick out moments of awkward humour is a little more cringeworthy than perhaps the cast believe. But even with setbacks, this is a good Fringe show and if you go in expecting fun, rough, honest theatre, it certainly won’t disappoint.

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Natasha Tabani

at 10:08 on 5th Aug 2012

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The Canterville Ghost, a quaint little tale written by Oscar Wilde, was first published in 1887. The premise being that an all-American family (the Otises) move into an old English mansion after ignoring warnings that the site is haunted. For generations, the English residents have been frightened, pestered and driven mad by the Ghost of Canterville. However, unlike the mansion’s previous inhabitants, Mr Otis and the Otis family refuse to be spooked by the ghost. English aristocratic tradition is pitched against ‘modern’ brash American values, and the gothic setting becomes the unexpected grounds for a great comedy.

This adaptation captured the Victorian Gothic essence perfectly. The play begins with plainly dressed actors lounging across the floor and leafing through old books. The sound of the pages turning merges with light piano music, helping to ease the transition of the tale from story to stage. They finally gather round one book, hold up a balloon-with-a-ghost-face-on-a-stick and begin to narrate the tale.

All technical aspects of the play were carefully considered, and each helped to maintain the tension between the comedic and the macabre. The props, lighting and space were all used to their full potential: character changes are aided (and made funnier) by the use of multiple costumes, a series of Otis family portraits are brought to life with bright flashes of light and tableaux to recreate the effect of a photographer’s studio and the depth of the stage helps to give the impression of a large house with empty rooms and lengthy corridors.

The cast are all young and certain mannerisms in their acting remind us that this is an amateur production. A few things, such as inconsistent American accents, let the play down a little. However, these are few and far between, and the overall effect of the production is both pleasurable and amusing. The actors take it in turn to play Sir Simon (the ghost), which helps to show his character degeneration. There are also some really amusing ‘English’ and ‘American’ character stereotypes, which are as applicable today as they were in the Victorian era.

Overall, I really enjoyed the performance. It’s a clever and accessible tale that’s acted consistently well by all the cast members who despite their age are able to pull off multiple roles, complex scene transitions and above all look like they’re having a lot of fun while they’re performing.

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