Derivative but oddly involving
A little piece of history at the Devonshire Park Theatre this week: Talking Scarlet mounts the first production for 70 years of the Emlyn Williams play Trespass.
The Welsh playwright has a treasured – and merited – little place in theatre writing, through such classics as Night Must Fall and The Corn Is Green, but Trespass is different.
A curiosity, even an oddity.
Written in 1947, in that post-war period when British people were coming to terms with loss and bereavement, the play centres on life and death, and that mystical wispy curtain between the two.
Widowed some months earlier, minor aristocrat Christine is convinced that she can still find a medium – in both senses – to communicate with her late husband.
A realistic hope, or a gullible fancy?
It is all a bit derivative: Blithe Spirit meets Turn of the Screw.
As an audience, we are permitted to be sceptics rather than paid-up spiritualists.
But keep just a little window open in your mind, for there are enough enjoyably scary moments to draw a nervous laugh or a glance over the shoulder.
As it happens, I found myself sitting in one of the theatre’s haunted seats – E5 in the stalls, since you ask – but your reviewer escaped unscathed.
On a solid, convincing set bathed in imaginative lighting – the scene changes in a grey-green half-light are especially effective – we are steadily and subtly enveloped in the story, while eerie music plays with the senses.
But the opening action is puzzling. The ancestral home is sited on an isolated island, and in echoes of Agatha Christie’s Then There Were None, characters seem to arrive at random.
Among them is the most outrageously fraudulent pair of mediums, a gloriously brash Rebecca Wheatley and her meek little partner from Cardiff Bay, Jeremy Lloyd Thomas.
Christine, fabulously played by Michelle Morris, is a torn and desperate victim, with scientific dabbler David Callister moves the story along, as we discover that the little Welsh draper might not be a charlatan after all.
And daughter Katy Dean swerves the plot in a new direction after the interval, with a startling back-story.
Sound support – albeit in a range of personae from undertaker to librarian - comes from Ian Crowe, Jason Marc-Williams, Polly Jordan and a wise, engaging Judy Buxton.
The denouement? I couldn’t possibly tell you.
But if you do fancy catching this curiosity before Talking Scarlet heads out with it on tour, pop into the Devonshire Park.
It is odd, but oddly involving.
By Kevin Anderson