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Review: The Canterville Ghost (Unicorn Theatre)

Our 12 year-old young reviewer, Mary Ellen Dyson, tackles a retelling of a classic Oscar Wilde novel this holiday season

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Nathaniel Wade, Rose-Marie Christian, Nana Amoo-Gottfried and Beth Cordingly in The Canterville Ghost
© Manuel Harlan

The Canterville Ghost is the Unicorn Theatre's show for the 2019 Christmas period. It is a play directed by Justin Audibert and adapted by Anthony Weigh from a short story written by Oscar Wilde, telling of an American family and what happens when they move into a British house – Canterville Chase – which seems to be haunted. It is a comedy for children aged seven and above.

It is a characteristically unelaborate play from the Unicorn Theatre, with a small cast of eight and a simple set, designed by Rosie Elnile, who manages to make more use out of two tables than you ever imagined possible. Nothing else keeps with this trend of being small though. The lighting by Prema Mehta goes very big – maybe too big; the show is difficult to watch for anyone with problems with strobe. The directing adds a great deal to the comedy – small breaks in the plot for "advertisements" of the gizmos and gadgets that the Otis family use add farcical comedy to the show, making the comedy more accessible to younger children. There are also echoes of Horrible Histories, most noticeably when the ghost runs up into the audience. Audibert ingeniously utilises the simple set and small cast to create a sense of space and really adds to the more physical comedy that makes the show accessible to younger children and gives the show some variety in its forms of comedy.

The play manages to capture Wilde's characteristic wit extremely well – Weigh is not afraid to play with words in a way that one would not normally see in a children's play. Younger children without a particularly wide vocabulary may not understand all the jokes, but if you deprive the play of this witty humour, you would lose the appeal of Wilde's work. The wit is not dumbed down for children in any way – it is what makes this play so unique. The show does not patronise children, or assume that they cannot understand "big words". It just lets them try understanding witty comedy, which will come as a refreshing change to those tired of children's shows that they find babyish and patronising.

Weigh also, in his script, manages to keep the very snappy nature of the original short story, which could not be achieved without the addition of Wilde-like wit that one doesn't find in the original story of The Canterville Ghost but will find in a good deal of Wilde's other pieces. Weigh manages to keep the essence of Wilde's style heavily present in his script, yet makes it his own by not lifting a single exact line from the book. He also fleshes out the characters, making them his own and the play original.

The actors gave this show the final touch. Mrs Umney, portrayed brilliantly by Annie Fitzmaurice, really steals the show as a doom-and-gloom Scottish housekeeper whose every line makes the entire audience roar with laughter. All the actors feel very natural in their roles, embracing the humour and making the audience love every last joke.

All in all, this show is definitely worth a watch for children who are waiting for something different; a different kind of humour that has grown up a bit, and is also enjoyable for those who just want a good old bit of Christmas comedy from the Unicorn.

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