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Review - Casting the Runes

Pleasance Theatre

Playing until: 21st October 2023 at the Pleasance.

Touring until 25th November 2023


Noel Byrne, Antonia Christophers


Adam Lenson

Set, props and costume designers

Noel Byrne and Antonia Christophers

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Specialising in debunking supernatural phenomenon, Professor Edward Dunning (Noel Byrne) has recently rejected an article by Karswell for publication on the topic of alchemy. However, he did not suspect that there is a more than a slither of truth in witchcraft and curses employed by the author he rejected. Dunning seeks the help of Rebecca Harrington (Antonia Christophers), sister of Karswell’s last victim, as he begins to fear the consequences of his actions.

Dunning is quick to dismiss anything that can’t be explained by logic and science, including the so-called supernatural. When he reviewed a submission on alchemy, he unreservedly expressed his views, ultimately leading to the rejection of the paper. Little did he know that a previous scholar, John Harrington, who had dismissed Karswell’s work had died under very suspicious circumstances. It is precisely because of this, that led Rebecca to warn Dunning of the horrors that may befall him. From the outset, the writers draw upon the parallels between Dunning and John Harrington, and the fate that await Dunning should he be unable to resolve the problem.

Other than Dunning and Rebecca, the other characters are puppets manoeuvred by either Byrne or Christophers. Byrne perfectly captures the essence of an arrogant academic, who is both charming and condescending when first introduced, which highlights his transition into a paranoid and terrified man as he realises the dangers that await him. In addition to portraying the well-spoken and concerned Rebecca, Christophers also does most of the puppeteering, the slightest gestures and mouth movements were expertly handled, bringing these inanimate objects to lift as they interact with their surroundings and with Dunning.

The use of puppets allows this small company to introduce variety and different personalities in a more seamless way, which would have been difficult to achieve by the actors if costume changes are required. In addition, the team is able to create a large and menacing figure for Karswell, the otherworldly presence and the black robe it dons often blend in with its surroundings and make the audience feel the unease as if this figure could appear from behind them at any time in this cabaret style auditorium.

Despite the many strengths of this production, some of the added complexities did not feel necessary for the overall atmosphere of the production. While appreciating the 4 puppets (Dunning’s assistant, the librarian, ticketer and Karswell) each bring their unique contributions to this production, I did not feel that all of them need to be puppets. For example, Christophers could quite easily play Dunning’s assistant and that wouldn’t affect the overall feel of that character. The use of lighting and stage props also seem much too complex for an hour-long show. The lightings, in combination with the background music, are used remarkably to create the suspense. However, the different jigsaw pieces that are manipulated to create various stage components and changes in the positioning of the lamp posts are far too frequent and at times these adjustments interrupt the flow of the story and the tension that the actors have worked so hard to build up.

Casting the Runes is a chilling and well-paced production, introducing the audience to the boundaries between logic and supernatural. Through the use of wicked lighting, storytelling and excellent use of puppets, this show will surely make you feel the chills run down your spine.

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