The Canterville Ghost – Southwark Playhouse

Directed by Olivia Jacobs

Co-Directed by Toby Mitchell

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Some of us would perform forever if we could. And for others, our time on the stage is all too brief.

Led by the supreme velvety smoothness of Steve Watts’ compere, the audiences of the Southwark Playhouse are in for a delightfully devious treat with Tall Storie’s reimagining and expansion (of a sort) to Oscar Wilde’s ghost story The Canterville Ghost. A tale which charters the death and legacy of Sir Simon de Canterville: one marred by bloodshed and ruin, accused of murder and vanishing for near 300 years. His spirit continues to stalk to hallways of the manor which the Otis family have inherited, but whilst they were warned of the spectres’ presence, who warned Sir Simon about them?

Why, this isn’t just a re-telling of the infamous Wilde spine-tingler, but a ghoulish tale within a more spectral narrative. And interlaced between these sequences of The Canterville Ghost’s acts are a series of sensational routines from our storytellers: a comedian, a magician, and a psychic. There’s magic and mystery. There’s sorcery and song. There’s peril and, well, there’s a touch of heartache.

As our host of the evening reminds us, this is indeed the final performance of the team’s rendition of the story – and they’re determined to see it out with a blaze of spectacle and creativity. Taking to both performing roles in the titular Canterville Tale, each performer Callum Patrick Hughes, Matt Jopling, Katie Tranter, and Watt all perform a ‘skit’ of sorts to break up the tale. For Patrick Hughes, the illusions continue into his performance as the titular Sir Canterville. Under Scott Penrose’s magic supervision – the show leaps and bounds across the mortal coil with its stage sorcery.

Extending this, Tranter’s audience involvement as the psychic not only offers a much-welcomed step into the crowds to test their psychic and paranormal abilities. And be not afraid of the woman conversing with the dead, she really is quite welcoming. Morag Cross’s movement direction aids Tranter both in her possessed psychic state, but also with the footwork as the young Otis daughter, who brings a degree of sentimentality to the show in her chemistry with Patrick Hughe’s ghoulish Sir Canterville.

And just when it seems the onstage talents couldn’t become more diverse and interesting – the time-old tradition of Ventriloquism makes an appearance. Matt Jopling’s comedic talents have already been an impressive aspect of the show, largely with his flexibility and rubber-faced comedy, but to additionally perform a set-piece with his trusty younger brother is a welcome addition and allows the (until now) family-friendly show to bare its more PG teeth.

And it’s here a transition occurs, where The Canterville Ghost unfurls its talons and takes on a grimmer, more appropriate nature for this tale of ghosts and murder. Until now Watt has led us down a warmly lit path, but quickly the darkness encroaches, and the flames intensify. To spoil the ending of Tall Stories version of this ghost story would be cruel, but it amounts to a songbird of loss and memory.

Tall Stories’ The Canterville Ghost is evermore a piece of vaudeville variety which continues to ripple influentially across the industry. The Victorian Music Halls and jaunted piano storytellers may have indeed given up the ghost, but their influence and legacy continue to sparkle in the ghost lights across theatres. And for a show so impressing upon the deceased, it’s a wonder it finds such a spirit to become so lively and engaging.

Vaudeville Variety with Plenty of Spirit

The Canterville Ghost runs at the Southwark Playhouse until November 5th.

Tickets for which may be obtained here.

Photo Credit – Charles Flint

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