The splendour that is St George’s Hall is a marvelous venue for another intriguing project from Bill Elms Associates, a theatrical experience cleverly adapted by Jen Heyes from Tom Slemen’s bestselling books. There’s a fine line between ghostly and ghastly since stage and supernatural do not always mix, but the show makes an excellent job of crossing to the other side, beguiling the packed audience.
In keeping with tradition, each story has a narrator so the setting is simple: a platform with three chairs, the atmosphere being heightened through sound and lighting (Mike J. Dunn), in particular, sinister sound effects. However, although the cello (played by Vicky Mutch) is an appropriate instrument, unfortunately, it drowned out the dialogue at times. Similarly, the lightning did not quite hit the spot on one occasion though otherwise evocative, as were the a cappella songs, which included a haunting sea shanty.
Everybody will have their favourite tale of course; but those more recent than Victorian times, mixing the everyday (a Blacklers shopgirl) with the nightmarish, were the scariest, a reminder that the word ‘familiar’ has two meanings. A couple, you could say, were far-fetched, except that is also ambiguous, a fetch being a type of apparition; the County Fermanagh story was more science-fiction (with the emphasis on the fiction) than supernatural, and had only a tenuous link with Liverpool. That connection could also have been made clearer introducing the ‘Mysterious Mister Bill’ with his Mr Punch face, rather than a US psychiatrist, and the X Files theme tune. This, probably the spookiest account, finally revealed him looking more like a cartoon Plague Doctor, when just a glimpse would have been creepier.
But best of all: the cast. They really were good – superb in fact, switching effortlessly from accent to accent, role to role, and narrator to protoganist (though this was occasionally confusing). Brian Dodd provided variety with great aplomb and Jamie Hampson, a most convincing little girl, looks like one to watch. Jane Hogarth, who excelled at all ages, added welcome touches of comedy, as did Roy Carruthers, and he also brought the necessary gravitas.
In troubled times, those of a religious bent say it’s not that people believe in nothing, it’s that they’ll believe in anything. However, there are many strange things in this world and believe me, this production, with its remarkable show and tell, is a fascinating way of exploring them.