Theatre Review: The Haunting @ The New Vic

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credit Andrew Billington
credit Andrew Billington

Charles Dickens is famous for his masterpieces of Victorian literature but he often dipped into another favourite genre for the 19th Century audience – the ghost story.

Many of these have been adapted for other media than the written page with varied results for the intended audience. However, this adaptation of The Haunting – a collage of bits from a variety of different tales put together some dozen or so years ago by Hugh Janes – is among the best and will bring a shiver to the spine of even the most blasé of onlookers.

David Filde (Richard Leeming) is a junior partner in a firm dealing in antiquarian books and has been called to a remote outpost of England to assess the value of the estate left by the late Lord Gray – an avid bibliophile whose collection ranges from a priceless set of rare Bibles down to mass-produced tomes worth mere pennies.

The heir to the fortune and current Lord Gray (David Ahmad) is keen to sell at the best price possible as his late father has left behind a mountain of debt and the house and most of its contents have already been sold. With the house so cold that it even appears to be snowing inside, Filde is already apprehensive about the task before him and his mood could not have been improved by the events on the journey from the nearest railway station.

A former employee Mrs Rennie warns that the house is haunted and to avoid the tree outside while the coachman declares that he would never set foot in the place. The mood is hardly lightened by the less than hearty welcome from the current Lord who informs his guest that Filde is to spend the night in what was his father’s secret inner sanctum and sleep in what had been his father’s death bed.

As the room gradually reveals its hidden secrets, Filde is able to convince the originally sceptical Gray that there is something amiss that must be explored. Not the least among the secrets is what happened to Filde’s beloved sister Mary (Jessica Hole) who went into service at the house but whose communications with her brother came to an abrupt halt. What will be the final secret to be revealed?

The audience member knows that there will be moments of horror and would hope to be well-prepared for anything that Janes and Director Eleanor Taylor are going to throw at them. The onlookers are often lulled into a sense of false security as the interchanges between the excellent Ahmad and Leeming contain much humour. This only serves to make the edge of the seat moments even more alarming.

Designer Michael Holt has made the set as creepy as possible and the lighting and sound designed by Daniella Beattie and Jamie Lu respectively stretch the nerves to breaking point from the moment of entering the auditorium. Add in the tricks devised by Doctor Will Houstoun and the scene is set for many collective leaps from the seat and gasps of horror as the audience is drawn spellbound into the theatrical action.

There was hardly an empty seat in the house – a testament to the drawing power of the New Vic and the desire to be shocked by a good ghost story. And this is not a good ghost story, it is a great one delivered at good pace in a gripping goosebump-raising style as the three characters come to realise that their family histories are entwined.

My advice? Go to this play but preferably with someone whose hand you can squeeze when the fear gets too much. And be grateful that there is still light in the sky when you emerge from the New Vic. With all that has gone before, driving home alone in the dark may well be one step too far into the occult.

The Haunting continues until June 15th and has a running time of approximately two hours including interval. For ticket information contact 01782 717962 or tickets@newvictheatre.org.uk