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The Canterville Ghost

Southwark Playhouse

Directors and Writers

Olivia Jacobs and Toby Mitchell


Music and Lyrics

Jon Fiber and Andy Shaw





Synopsis

Interspersed with their own sensational acts, a comedian, a magician, a psychic and their charismatic compere tell the story of Sir Simon de Canterville, who disappeared mysteriously 300 years ago – after being accused of murder.


When the thoroughly modern Otis family move into Sir Simon’s former residence they’re warned about the fearsome phantom that haunts the Hall. But has anyone warned the Canterville Ghost about them?


Review

First published on Everything Theatre

Tall Stories’ version of The Canterville Ghost is played out by four music hall performers: the narrating Compere (Steve Watts), the fantastically clever and multi-talented Illusionist (Callum Patrick Hughes), witty and foul-mouthed Comedian and Ventriloquist (Matt Jopling), and finally, the “mindreading” Psychic (Katie Tranter). Each part of the Canterville story is spaced out using an act from one of them. While it is not immediately apparent how the troupe’s tales are related to that of Sir Simon de Canterville, rest assured all is revealed at the end.

The play opens strongly with a stunning vocal from Watts. The scene is quickly set and the characters that each will play are explained: the Compere will take on the role of Mr Otis, father of William and Virginia, played by the Comedian and Psychic, respectively, whilst Sir Simon de Canterville will be played by the Illusionist.

The material is engaging and the individual performers’ acts are the highlights of the show: they triggered howls of laughter and left us wondering how some of the spectacles were achieved. Predictably, the Comedian is the funniest, with some cleverly constructed interactions between performer and puppet. The Psychic’s performance is the cleverest and most enjoyable, partly because it involves audience participation (front row beware!). While it is likely that some scenarios had been prepared beforehand, I must still applaud Tranter’s ability to improvise the most appropriate reaction at a moment’s notice. The Illusionist’s performances are the most diverse, not restricting himself only to magic tricks, but also showing us his singing abilities and great collaboration with the rest of the cast.

Surprisingly, there is far greater investment and emphasis on the music hall troupe’s story instead of the original Canterville Ghost plot, drawing upon some parallels between their tale and that of Sir Simon de Canterville. This is a particularly clever idea, crafted by writers Olivia Jacobs and Toby Mitchell, using Oscar Wilde’s original as a backbone to tell another story.

Despite all the positives, this production is not without issues. While it is appreciated that Hughes is not an actual magician and he merely plays the role of an Illusionist, the magic tricks were at times a little unpolished; the floating wine glass, for example. In addition, the scenes where Mrs Umney the housekeeper eats fruitcake on stage, along with the Psychic’s multiple possessions by spirits, which – while jaw-droppingly funny – felt dragged out for a little too long. Unfortunately, the actual Canterville Ghostsection is the weakest point of the play. Despite some hilarious portrayals of Mrs Umney and her constant ability to break the fourth wall to interact with the audience, the rest of the story simply lacks soul and fails to stimulate a meaningful response.

While this is never meant to be an in-depth retelling of The Canterville Ghost, it does do a marvellous job of providing an entertaining and exceedingly witty narrative of Oscar Wilde’s story through the lens of music hall performers. The message of the show isn’t a deep one. In fact it is quite clear and simple to understand: don’t judge a book by its cover, and certainly don’t jump to conclusions without giving people a chance to tell their own tales.

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