THE tradition of ghost stories at Christmas time is a long-standing one and this new piece of work by Philip Meeks taps into that nostalgia with its late-Victorian era setting – and it certainly delivers on the chills.
At one point the audience packed into the sold-out studio at Harrogate Theatre, literally jumped out of their seats as one thanks to a very simple but impeccably timed sound effect.
Set in the home of novelist Edith Nesbit, author of the much-loved children’s classic The Railway Children, on Christmas Eve 1900 the play takes as its starting point the dark horror stories that Nesbit penned early in her writing career. Edith (played with wonderful spirit and a mischievous hauteur by Blue Merrick) is hosting a festive party with her husband the political activist Hubert Bland and has found an excuse to be alone in the attic of her house with an attractive younger man.
It transpires that the young man, Guasto (Scott Ellis) is an admirer of her work and, much to Edith’s disappointment, he resists her attempts to seduce him and asks her to read to him instead. He is expecting a reading from The Railway Children but she insists on presenting some of her ghost stories. The pair are joined by Edith’s trusty housekeeper Biddy Thricefold (Janet Amsden) and the storytelling begins with the actors taking a number of different parts in the various stories; the switches between characters are expertly handled by all three.
Meeks’s carefully crafted script incorporates Nesbit’s visceral and disturbing tales – which include vampire plants, a zombie bridegroom and a menacing shadowy figure – within a fascinating narrative that offers some insight into the real-life tragedies experienced by the author and tops it all off with an immensely satisfying final twist when it is revealed that someone in the room has been hiding a terrible secret.
To January 5.