Julian Harries and Pat Whymark take the Oscar Wilde short story of a Tudor ghost that resents the arrival of an American family at his stately home and extend it into a two-act play that is laced with funny songs.
Like some of their other work such as Dial M for Murgatroyd and Gills around the Green (both for Eastern Angles), the humour is somewhat surreal and I felt the pace of this Common Ground production was a bit slow at the beginning.
However, by the second act, I was thoroughly engaged and enjoyed the gentle canter of puns, anti-American humour and musical comedy. Whymark composes many of the songs which the cast performs and provides off-stage guitar accompaniment.
Her songs acutely provide homage to both the Tudor era that the Canterville Ghost hails from and the Charleston era that the new American residents of Canterville Hall know. In addition to her musical accompaniment, she also acts as an excellent foley artist providing sound effects for the play.
This performance is an understated delight. Despite being an emerging theatre company with a limited budget, the set design is professional and there are intelligent touches – as when the pirate ship approaches closer and when the headless horseman's head is used as a fun-fair target. In both of these scenes, lighting provides an excellent support to the scene change and keeps the pace flowing.
On top of a solid script, set and musical accompaniment, Harries (Canterville Ghost), Lorna Garside (as Virginia) and Stefan Atkinson (as Salem the Raven) give strong performances. They are supported by some strong dialogue between the ghost and these characters.
All of the cast deliver perfect accents either as the Otis family or their other characters. In terms of musical performances, the cast sing a variety of ensemble songs and Garside delivers a strong solo during the performance.
Harries had previously said that, while this is not a children's story, he hoped that this would be a family show that would be aimed at younger people. There were some young members of the audience in the performance I attended and they seemed fully engaged throughout the performance.
However, I do not think this would suit the run-of-the-mill populist pantomime goer who would want celebrities and innuendos strewn all over the place. I think this performance would appeal to families who regularly attend the theatre and who want something just a bit more challenging – that engages the brain.
The Canterville Ghost runs at the Fram Theatre, Framlingham until 24 Decembe, at the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh 27-31 December, at St Mary's Hall, Walton 2-4 January and at the Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipswich 9-11 January