Saturday, 22 June 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: The Haunting Of Blaine Manor - Waterside Theatre, Sale, Greater Manchester

Beware of Blaine Manor. This was a place permanently fixed in the past, haunted by the past, and can even awaken your deepest and darkest past. 1950s Hollywood meets classic, periodic ghost story - with some unforeseen and clever twists at the end. Surprising turns which completely re-frame the whole story and turn the play on its decapitated head. It’s this that makes the play so watchable.

Written and directed by Joe O’Byrne, 'The Haunting Of Blaine Manor', brought to us by "Tales from Paradise Heights", is embarking on a UK tour. This includes a future performance at Whitby Pavilion on Halloween. An ideal location for this play because of its paranormal past. It’s also the frightening date when we’re meant to be leaving the EU. Anyway moving on, tonight was only the second performance of the tour. It showed because tonight’s performance was lacking in palpable tension and chilling atmosphere. This may develop during the tour as the ensemble of actors play with the script more.

England, 1953… meet Doctor Roy Earle (Peter Slater), a famous American parapsychologist, who is always on the lookout to give rational explanations for hauntings and expose fake mediums. He has been invited to attend a séance in what is deemed to be the most haunted building in England, Blaine Manor. His arrival comes with a closely guarded past that awakens an evil force within the walls of the manor. One significant wall is actually the fourth wall on stage, a nice touch. As a raging storm closes off Blaine Manor from the rest of civilisation, we learn things that are more disturbing than the house itself.

Slater gave a considered interpretation of Earle: a person who didn’t give much away and he distanced himself from others. His American accent dropped off now and then on certain sounds, sadly. Vivian Rutledge was played by Jo Haydock with attention to detail on physical characterisation. However, it felt like she was just there to interrogate Earle for most of it, there wasn’t much more depth to her than that. Andrew Yates oozes just the right amount of eccentricity as Cairo. Completing the ensemble were: Ed Barry, Phil Dennison, and Joe O’Byrne himself. O’Byrne’s ability to act cool, calm, and collected as the ghost called Grady made his presence all the more intimidating.

Just a minor note, I think we could have walked in to the theatre with the stage curtains closed. What ended up happening was they were open, then the curtains closed and re-opened again, when the show began. The opulent-looking haunted manor house set, featuring macabre objects like a skull, looked aesthetically pleasing against the black curtains.

Unfortunately, I can’t help but compare this production to The Woman In Black, which is petrifying and spine-chilling in its simplicity and less is more approach. The lighting and sound in this production, as designed by David Heald and Justin Wetherill, was overdone. With the lighting, it didn’t need the chosen colour scheme as it looked inauthentic and cartoonish. Now, the high volume of the sound did make people jump out of their seat, but the design was layered with lots of ideas, particularly in the soundscapes.

The writing was made strong by the closing plot-twists; just when you thought you knew what was going to happen, you were way off the mark. For those who have seen this play, there were smart references to the story of Hamlet. Some of the writing in the script, especially in the first act, was somewhat superfluous as it seemed to be there to add time to the play. Nevertheless, the historical context around witches and witchcraft was interesting.

In summary: While this play won’t haunt you in your sleep and the ensemble don’t generate the kind of atmosphere you would expect, the writing makes up for it. It was worth watching.

Reviewer - Sam Lowe
on  21/6/19

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