Who doesn’t love a good ghost story?
There is something almost wholesome about the “good scare” that a Dickens-esque story can bring. The mystery and suspense, combined with all the scares necessary for a story about an angry spirit from the other side, all combine to make a strong story worthwhile seeing. The Haunting, directed by Jennifer Sarah Dean, is definitely an example of a ghost story well done – as one can expect for a stage adaptation of Charles Dickens’ short stories (and his life). Masterful in production and execution, The Haunting is a great way to spend a spooky evening.
The story starts out – as all good Victorian-esque horror stories do – with a fairly mysterious setting. A young representative of a book firm (someone who is very much modelled on Dickens himself, and played by Gig Clarke) is visiting an isolated mansion in the countryside to assess the value of books. The estate is owned by Lord Gray (Cameron Daddo), the cynical younger son of the former Lord Gray, who is trying to settle his father’s debts by selling his father’s extravagant library. Intrigue, scandal, and sinister mysteries unfold from that point on, and what starts off as small, unsettling occurrence turn into a full-blown haunting with massive consequences for the two characters. It is quite thrilling.
The ending is very interesting. Without giving too much away, it either invalidates everything that happened previously, or has some darker undertones. Regardless, it is something that makes the audience leave feeling mildly unsettled, and yet very satisfied (in the way all good ghost stories ought to do).
What makes this play stand out, aside from its intriguing plot, is the special effects and the great props. It is not often that a full Victorian reading room manages to make it to the stage. Costumes that really reflected the era (and characters), when combined with the overall aesthetic, really drew you into the world created on the stage. Furthermore, all of the mechanics required to engage in some of the stunts and effects were very impressive – almost at a movie level (arguably better than most lower-budget horror movies out there). The details on the props and costumes are also available in the little booklet that accompanied the play. Which is pretty cool – you get to learn more about the processes and the attention to detail that really went into designing and making them.
The actors were phenomenal in their roles as well. Gig and Daddo bring their characters to life, conveying humour in all the right places – and fear, anger, doubt, and the world of human emotions that make Dickens’ stories so captivating. The few minor slip-ups were played off very well – and more than made up for by the fantastic acting and characterisations throughout the rest of the play.
Overall, a strong performance, in terms of plot, acting, and effects. If you are after a sinister night in a Victorian manor with mysterious works afoot, then The Haunting is the show for you.
The Haunting runs until 1 July 2017 at the Athenaeum Theatre. For tickets, visit Ticketek.