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What the Dickens!, The Lion & Unicorn Theatre – Review

KDC theatre cast and creatives
★★

Pros: Some excellent characterisation in places.
Cons: Inconsistent direction and a distinct lack of spooky atmosphere for ghostly tales; I only jumped once!
Our Verdict: A piece that demonstrates some great potential from its cast and creatives but needs more work.
Courtesy of The Lion & Unicorn theatre
It’s always good to see some spooky theatricals around Halloween, so KDC theatre’s decision to showcase of a selection of Victorian ghost stories sounded promising. Unfortunately the production failed to frighten me very much; I only jumped once, which was a shame.
KDC theatre is a London based amateur theatre group. All productions are directed, acted and technically supported by volunteers from central London who want to get involved in theatre. This is a great initiative and it doesn’t stop with just productions. KDC also have a new writing project. The project aims to assist new writers wanting to showcase or experiment with their work. This includes sit down, and acted-out readings of pieces so that writers can get a better idea of how their work may be transferred onto stage. Inspired by a Halloween production of Dracula last year, KDC set a challenge to its new writers this time around. To write, or adapt a ghost story inspired by Charles Dickens. The What the Dickens! project is the result. It collects together eight of the best scripts submitted into two different shows. One, a collection of modern tales entitled Twisted and the other, Victorian ones called Bleakest House.
Bleakest House, performed at the lovely pub-theatre venue The Lion & Unicorn theatre in Kentish town, told three of the new or adapted stories within the context of a poirot style group of well to do Victorians collected together in an old house, one dark night, running a séance. As the group ‘made contact’ with the spiritual world each story, which had a connection to the old house or the group, was told as if an apparition.
There were some great elements to the evening; the strongest of which was some excellent characterisation. Bernard O’ Sullivan, Chris Dacalopulous and Mark Ewins gave accomplished, nuanced and funny performances consistently throughout the piece. Mark Ewins’ depiction of the Signalman in the final tale was especially good – and he actually managed to scare me for the only time that evening.
What was generally lacking I felt, was consistently good direction and, more importantly, any real creation of a suspense filled or unsettling atmosphere for the audience. No doubt it is a difficult task to create a sustained, unsettling atmosphere in a small black box space, but it felt as if more could have been done. There were some good choral elements utilised and use of soundscapes with a view of creating creepy atmospheres but these felt fairly underdeveloped. At points the staging looked a little messy and the transitions, especially, between each story were quite clunky. I couldn’t help but wonder whether less attention to props and a more stripped back, simple approach to the staging might have served the premise of telling a series of short stories more effectively in this instance.
The writing itself was ok, though the first story felt too long and there were some parts across all three that didn’t transfer onto stage too well. Perhaps this was because they simply weren’t staged as well as they could have been.
Overall, given the consideration that it was put together by a group of amateur creatives and new writers who have a collected a passion to get involved, it was a production that showed some really great potential from the group; especially from some of the actors. That said, this piece probably needed some more time in order to tap into, and harness this potential properly.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!
What the Dickens! Bleakest House and Twisted run in repertory until 9th November 2013.
Box Office: 08444 77 1000 or visit http://www.ticketweb.co.uk/

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Founded in 2011, Everything Theatre started life as a pokey blog run by two theatre enthusiasts and – thanks to the Entry Pass Scheme for 16-25 year olds – regular National Theatre goers. Today, we are run by part-time volunteers from a wide array of backgrounds. Among our various contributors are people who work in theatre, but also people who work in law, medicine, events, marketing and even psychiatry! We are all united by our love for the London theatre scene.