Pros: Who doesn’t love a ghost story or three at Christmas?
Cons: Doesn’t quite tingle the spine as it intends.
The book referred to in the title of this show has a lot to live up to. We’re not permitted to know how it ended up in the hands of storyteller Adam Z. Robinson and his violinist friend Ben Styles, but we’re assured in no uncertain terms that it contains the most terrifying tales imaginable.
In the first of three stories, a minister responsible for socially ruthless policies is haunted by the spectre of austerity. The script includes several grisly passages which work reasonably well to conjure physical gruesomeness. Performing his own work, Robinson is in command of the material, but he doesn’t quite manage to push it over the line from interesting to disturbing, which is surely the goal.
This template is replicated over the following stories: a tale of a young dancer doomed by family jealousy, and an epistolary account of a historian’s fascination with a mysterious old prison.
Styles’ musical contributions occasionally create some complimentary drama, but they’re mostly abstract and don’t add a great deal to the atmosphere – he’s clearly a gifted violinist but the snatches of score are repetitive and this feels like a missed opportunity to integrate music and story in a really imaginative way.
A nice lighting design includes some effective use of candles and concealed bulbs, and there are a couple of moments of accomplished stagecraft, such as Robinson coughing up witch hair. But more of these are needed to elevate the show above a sort of dimly lit gothic Jackanory.
Many components of the show are ably presented, but the concept proves somewhat underwhelming and the reputation of the infamous book is the most original work of fiction on display.