"One man in his time plays many parts", muses
Jacques in As You Like It. You could say
the same about Wilkie Collins, novelist friend
of Charles Dickens and occasional playwright,
whose own private life was as convoluted as any
of his plots. Nowadays he is best known as the
author of The Woman in White and The
Moonstone and, to a much lesser degree, No
The Haunted Hotel was published ten years
after The Moonstone, in 1878, but has
never really found a public. The current stage version of The Haunted Hotel was created by Philip Dart and
director Val May in 1993.
The action takes place during the last year of
Queen Victoria's reign in a London theatre,
whose actor-manager - think George Alexander or
Frank Benson rather than Henry Irving - needs
to follow a faltering production with a sure fire
success. He decides to make a play out of a
family story and invites a popular leading man to
Any building which is normally peopled takes on a
spooky quality when empty and dimly lit.
Alexander McPherson's set has a fake proscenium
arch and crimson tabs to remind us that we are
eavesdroppers at a play within a play and
spectators for several layers of stage illusion.
No, I'm not going to tell you the plot. You must
find that out for yourself. Yes, it has got lots
of twists. And yes, it does live up to its title.
Brian Blessed was scheduled to play theatre
owner Sir Francis Westwick, but was taken ill on
the opening night. Understudy Andrew Ramsay
took over for the Colchester run to good, if
There are two very strong women's roles. One is
that of actress Maria Cavenna (shades of Duse
and Bernhardt) who then plays the Countess.
Elizabeth Counsell controlled the histrionics
and melodramatic elements superbly to create a
three-dimensional tragic victim.
Heroines in Collins tend to be feisty ladies
and ingénue Evelyn Collier, still star-struck, is
briskly and effectively transformed into un-lamb
like Agnes by Louise Breckon-Richards. Lynette
McMorrough is Lady Westwick and offers a
kaleidoscope of accents, headgear and funny walks
as all the working women without whom Victorian
society could not function.
The initially disdainful Gerald Ivor
who is landed with the part of the rather passive
Henry is played by Dominic Kemp. Richard
Hodder as character actor Albert Denny plays all
the men on the fringes of the central, dramatised
Stage management have a busy evening with
constant set and prop shifting, not to mention
the manipulation of all the special effects
devised by Matt Drury (lighting) and Clement
Another quotation from Shakespeare makes an
appropriate summary: "Rest, rest perturb'd
- Anne Morley-Priestman (reviewed at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester)