Wychwood

Mon 15th – Sat 20th August 2016

reviews

Anna Livesey

at 09:22 on 16th Aug 2016

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As their teaser proudly announces, Violet Shock’s 'Wychwood' certainly is 'not for the faint hearted'. Unfortunately, though, that is certainly not for the reasons they intended.

The musical, which follows a line of inhabitants through the haunted Wychwood House, opens to a blaring sequence of twisted dolls and cracked faces, projected onto a screen and with the music and strobes to accompany. I find myself recalling my last visit to the 'SAW' ride at Thorpe Park, with the same twitchiness at what is about to come. This sets a pretty fair precedent: although the creepy dolls become largely irrelevant, what ensues is another hour and a bit of over-hammed and over-teched posturing.

Tech is a big problem: there are the usual hiccoughs, but quite often actors are just poorly lit. Cumbersome stage props become a hindrance when the company has to needlessly navigate a large rotating door, a large wooden dolls house, and a noisy wardrobe, all of which take time, and more noise, to manoeuvre. I struggle to see the point of the white straitjackets that form the company’s chief costume, except that, like the opening doll-faces, they are part of the stereotypical apparatus of horror.

But this is exactly it: horrific conventions rob the show of any real substance. 'Wychwood' brands itself as a 'classic' collection of Edwardian ghost stories, but too often it appeals only to cliché. Dialogue has potential, but is ruined by unnatural archaisms, or else is lost to the melodramatic poses. There is just too much stooping, too much grimacing and too many raucous tinny screams.

If there is one redeeming factor, it is the music. An original score is nicely put-together, and I like that it is performed by a live band. Unfortunately, though, the actors need a little more rehearsal to compliment this soundtrack: voices are basically good, but frequently lose key and rhythm.

With an interesting concept and some nice musical numbers, 'Wychwood' has prospects. It’s a shame, then, that these are sacrificed to a tech-heavy and tech-shoddy production.

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Caragh Aylett

at 15:05 on 16th Aug 2016

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Ghost stories have always captured the imagination and created elaborate, intricate tales of horror. It is no surprise, then, that Violet Shock chose to bring their interpretation of Edwardian ghost stories to Edinburgh. The young performers seek to shock and scare the audience with their musical horror tales; however, this did not really have the desired effect.

The piece consists of a collection of ghost stories which are brought to us by two hosts, Tom Hill and Ruby Shrimpton. These characters are confronted with the challenge of playing convincingly terrifying characters. In some aspects they are successful, but it is a shame that the success can mostly be attributed to their creepy costumes. I want something more from their acting - they would benefit from absorbing the whole physicality of the hosts.

Unfortunately, this is not the only place where the acting struggles. The relationship between Dr. Stone (Josh Lowes) and Marion (Julia Maughan) suffers from a lack of chemistry, leaving the audience unable to understand Lowes' pain at her death.

There is, however, some great strength in the acting. Simon Weatherspoon’s role as Michael is certainly worth mentioning: his affection for Maria (Charlotte Bell) is clear, and we are able to understand and appreciate their forbidden love. Equally Calum Bruce’s role as the man who has killed his wife takes us on a journey through his inner turmoil, and we truly invest in that character.

'Wychwood''s fatal flaw is its music. Having a talented live band is certainly a credible idea - the way in which it is executed is not. The composition and lyrics are uncreative and drab, and prevent the actors from really showing off their singing ability and vocal range. Equally, the band really could be utilised more to underscore the piece, helping bring it to life. It is a shame that such a potential asset to the show is underused.

‘Wychwood’ has several interesting stylistic decisions. The use of projection as the piece begins sets the tone wonderfully; the audience are fully thrown into the haunted mansion and are invested in the horror which follows. Equally, the use of the wardrobe to reveal a body without a head is eerily successful. However, in some places the stage lights are kept so dark to remain spooky that they fail to illuminate the stage at all, and I am left wondering whether perhaps the technician needed a nudge. Additionally, the excessive use of the door seems unnecessary and in many cases causes scene changes to be clumsy, disrupting the flow of the piece.

Wychwood is a perfectly good piece of theatre, but it is unpolished and does not successfully inflict fear into the heart of the audience.

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