David Farr's fantasy, Night of the Soul, delivers what it promises, and a pretty long night it is too, although not without some entertaining and diverting moments. Farr - who also directs this stylish and stylised production - seems to take the whole thing desperately seriously. This is a unfortunate since he has a good line in witty repartee. But as Sven-Goran Erikson would say, this is a game of two halves except the division is not entirely clear.
The plot revolves around a restless spirit, Joanna (played by Zoe Waites with a good deal more commitment than the script merits), who has apparently been earth-bound since 1350 when she disavowed God and smothered her small child rather than have him ravaged by the Black Death. She is condemned to remain so, within the confines of the Hotel Meridian, built upon the burial grounds of the plague-ridden medieval village. That is, until she comes across a man who can see her and whom she herself has a chance to redeem.
Such an opportunity presents itself in the shape of fortysomething Francis Chappell - a, with an - who has returned to his hometown and working-class roots to bury his estranged father. As played by Tom Mannion, whose ability to transform from light comedy to intense tragedy is indeed admirable, this Francis is an upwardly mobile market researcher with an annoying but still highly amusing ingratiating manner. A re-enactment of the estrangement scene with his father Will Tacey is worthy of Arthur Miller.
As for the other performers, they multitask through a variety of characters with varying conviction. Amongst those who impress are Cherry Morris as Francis's self-hating and down-at-heel mum and, the evening's star performance, Hattie Morahan, making her stage debut as a dim-witted and robotically banal receptionist.
Perhaps they feel at odds with the material. Farr's mix 'n' match of comedy and, to put it bluntly, pretentious and po-faced spiritual drama, is not always seamless, and often the scenes jar rather than gel. The medieval flashbacks are nothing less than high camp.
Nevertheless, the production, directed in a fluid cinematic style, within Angela Davies' outstanding scenic design - white and glass minimalism that captures the uniformity and essential barrenness of modern hotels - is handsome and always interesting to look at.
- Stephen Gilchrist