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Haymarket - The Canterville Ghost

8th December 2004 to 8th January 2005.

From the Newbury Weekly News.

Prepare to be scared

The Canterville Ghost, at The Haymarket Theatre, Basingstoke, until January 8

Ghost stories abound in the theatre where the suspension of disbelief is a prerequisite. The pre-show soundtrack of howling winds, barking dogs, clanking chains, thunder and lightning and the sight of Elroy Ashmore’s archetypal gothic mansion set with its zig-zag staircase replete with gargoyles whet the appetite for this stunning adaptation of Wilde’s short story.

Writer Shaun Prendergast, who penned last year’s swashbuckling saga of The Three Musketeers, deserves an Oscar for the masterly way he has fleshed out the narrative to create a masterpiece of musical mayhem.

Newly-appointed artistic director John Adams directs his second play in the theatre’s Irish season with aplomb as the hard-working cast of seven adults and two children enter into the spirit of the tale of an American family who refuse to be intimidated by the resident ghost when they move into Canterville Chase.

The author delights in the clash of cultures, stating wryly that England and America have everything in common, except language.

Geoff Abbott, as Hiram B. Otis, makes a strong impression in a song-and-dance number aided by Maria Rallings as his feisty wife. Joanna Heap, in a promising professional debut, plays the dual role of the daughter Virginia and Lady Eleanor, whose murder 300 years previously by her husband Sir Simon de Canterville provides the raison d’être for the ghost’s lingering presence. Trevor Allan Davies portrays the tortured soul as well as being responsible for the original songs (the ‘ghost writer’, so to speak).

Lesley McClymont relishes the melodramatic role of the housekeeper Mrs Umney while also displaying a softer side in The Man of My Dreams, one of several delightful ballads.

Pieter Lawman’s Freddie Fortescue provides the romantic interest as well as opportunities for the author’s comments on the class system.

Nick Lumley corners the market in servants, his solo number being a tour-de-force of accents and styles.

The spirits’ rendition of Keep it Nice and Gory to the tune of Land of Hope and Glory is a comic gem and there is even a roller-skating snowman.

Accompanying music is sympathetically played by the actors themselves although some voices would benefit from the gentle use of amplification.

If you enjoy being scared wittily (as opposed to witless) then the Haymarket serves up a treat that will haunt you long after leaving the theatre.