Arts Reviews

The Canterville Ghost @ Lakeside Arts

The dry sarcasm that resonates in most of Oscar Wilde’s The Canterville Ghost is, perhaps understandably, challenging to enact out within a limited time frame in the format of a vaudeville. Tall Stories’ reimagination of the classic ghost story involves a modified version presented by a compere and his eccentric company: an illusionist, a comedian-ventriloquist and a psychic. While on paper, this reads for an incredibly entertaining evening, the overall impact that the play actually manages to have on the audience is slightly underwhelming.

“The tendency to succumb to theatrical exaggerations at every instance was a bit jarring”

Steve McCourt as the compere of the team starts off the performance with a flourish, his piano playing skills sufficient to set the mood for what follows. The audience is then introduced to the rest of the crew: the illusionist played by Tom Jude, the comedian played by Matt Jopling and the psychic played by Lauren Silver. The tendency to succumb to theatrical exaggerations at every instance was a bit jarring, especially considering that the target audience for this play was explicitly over the age of twelve. Apart from an obvious fumble in narration at the start of the first act by McCourt, the performances were clearly well-rehearsed and executed; far from being flawless, but they were definitely watchable. The illusionist’s larger-than-life backstory was amusing, if a little too predictable; but then the same can be said of the entire production, there was no element of surprise to it. Silver’s psychic act was interesting, being full of the parlour tricks that the magic shows I used to go to as a child would have. It was Jopling’s comedy act, however, that was the standout (it managed to draw the loudest cheers from the audience as well), easily the best bit of the performance.

“Not much importance was given to subtlety at any point”

In this modified enactment of Wilde’s story, the Otis family are no longer American, they are very British and yet they have all the traits that the Otis family of the original story possessed. Thus, instead of it being a clever play on the differences between the Americans with their modern, capitalistic approach to problems and the English with their insistence towards holding on to the past, the audience is presented with a number of English characters, all overtly animated and dramatic. Not much importance was given to subtlety at any point.

I personally found this change to be slightly unnecessary – surely learning accents is part of being an actor? Besides an alteration like this allows some of the brilliant lines from the original story (“We have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, language”) to be omitted, which was unfortunate. There was the slight feeling of disappointment on seeing the attempts at being comical, the original lines are actually hilarious without the need to ham the delivery. Indeed, a dry delivery with a deadpan expression would have, perhaps, often served the play better.

“the songs were catchy in the moment, but ended up ultimately being imminently forgettable”

There were illusions throughout the performance which kept the audience invested in it throughout, however, the constant switch between an act of the story and the individual performances made it an often-jarring experience, especially since the time dedicated to the story seemed to be incredibly brief. Vaudevilles are often difficult to perform precisely for this reason, it is not easy to keep the audience invested in a story when there is a parlour trick happening every 3 minutes. The sound effects were effective, and the songs were catchy in the moment, but ended up ultimately being imminently forgettable.

As a play paying homage to Oscar Wilde, Tall Stories’ The Canterville Ghost was prone to mediocrity and left the literature-lover wanting more. As a group of vaudevillians, the performances were good, but nothing enchantingly spectacular. And as an evening of entertainment, the performance was enjoyable, but definitely not the most memorable experience ever.


Anusmita Ray

Featured Image courtesy of Nottingham Lakeside Arts Official Facebook Page

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