There’s often a temptation to explicitly link individual narratives presented together. But is it a temptation that should always be yielded to?
Three women in white stalk the candle-dressed stage of the elegant Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. They’ve come on a wintery night to tell us a trio of chilling tales, upholding the long tradition of sharing otherworldly stories in the half-darkness. It’s a largely successful evening inspired by East Anglia’s landscapes, whose chief strength is the talent and intensity of two of the performers and the three playwrights involved.
The first of the plays is by Nicola Werenowska, a monologue performed by Elizabeth Crarer. A mother brings her daughter Lacey (“13 going on 21”) to a beach hut, but the planned mother-daughter bonding goes awry when Mum is spooked by marauding gulls and Lacey is terrified by a spectral presence connected to some jewellery found in the hut.
Crarer brilliantly portrays the growing desperation of the mother as a phantom appears to take control of her daughter, leading Lacey into danger, and Werenowska’s script is full of evocative language that expertly summons both the physical and psychological without coming across as over-written.
The next story takes us into a forest at night. Crarer plays another mother, with Katie Cherry an equally compelling force as her 18-year-old daughter. This time the mother is hell bent on resuscitating her dead son and has dragged her surviving child along to take part in the ritual. Hints of a regional dialect add a pleasing note of traditional folk horror to Shamser Sinha’s script: another well-crafted story that just about gets away with a sudden twist in its latter stages.
Finally, we’re in Romford in the company of Izzy (Cherry again), an assertive young woman making her way home on a night when the buses have been mysteriously cancelled and there’s something weird happening with the streetlights…
There’s clearly a secret to be revealed, but writer Kelly Jones handles it deftly and Cherry imbues strutting Izzy with immense charm and likability. It’s another extremely fine performance of a terrific piece of writing. My only reservation is that I could have done without a final diatribe which makes trumpetingly explicit a theme which could have been handled with more dramatic sophistication.
I wish I could leave it there (and up the rating a star or two) but I’m duty-bound to mention the fourth element of the show. This was an original folk song written by Georgia Shackleton and performed by Loren O’Dair – who has charisma and a strong singing voice – which began and ended the production as well as appearing inbetween the plays. The rather hammy lyrics see a peregrine falcon describe how mankind’s manipulation of the environment has resulted in the loss of a natural habitat, and invoked some sort of curse that must be lifted before midnight. Somehow the plays contribute to this end, but I found this unnecessary linking device distracting to the point of irritation. O’Dair accompanies herself, plucking a violin in an oddly tuneless way – it’s neither atonal enough to be interestingly strange, nor melodic enough to stir an emotional reaction.
Sometimes the best way to showcase a strong collection of stories is to let them shine on their own. This should have been one of those times.
Written by: Georgia Shackleton, Nicola Werenowska, Shamser Sinha, Kelly Jones
Directed by: Elayce Ismail
Produced by: HighTide
Ghost Stories by Candlelight has completed its current run. Further information about this production and HighTide can be found here.