EdFringeWychwoodsmCertain places seem to attract a darkness about them, a darkness which once experienced lives on in memory. One such place is Wychwood House, the former mental asylum which closed in 1916 whose stories are now told by Violet Shock in their brief visit to the Edinburgh Fringe where they offer a “retelling of classic Edwardian ghost stories… not for the faint hearted.”

There is Doctor Stone whose indiscretions come to haunt him following the visit from a foreign visitor who engages him to attend to his ailing wife; the surgeon wishes to allow the symptoms to develop in order that he may properly diagnose, but the gentleman insists, demands, the operation take place…

EdFringeWychwood2Then there is Professor Michael Bascombe who is pressed upon by his butler and cook to engage a new housemaid for Heath Grange; finding themselves then displaced by his growing affection for the girl, they contrive for her to stay in the room which is supposed by some to be haunted…

There is the young girl who is read bedtime stories by her granny and plays with dolls in the dark, and finally there is another doctor, who took a most drastic approach to end his marriage to Eliza then opens his home to his new love, Stella, the evidence of his crime still present in a hatbox in the bedroom they now share…

EdFringeWychwood3Seen on the first public performance at the Edinburgh Fringe, it’s likely that many of the problems with the late fading up of head mics after songs have begun will soon be corrected, that the lighting will point at the actors rather than at the space at the front of the stage, but other issues will not be so readily addressed.

Many of the actors lack the basic skills of stagecraft to present the dialogue to an audience, inaudible from only a few feet away when not amplified, and nor is the range of acting talent on display encouraging, though in general terms the women in the cast acquit themselves far better than the men both in terms of both talent and volume.

EdFringeWychwood1The band who hide in the gloom in their formal suits are good; the songs on which they support the cast are less so. With Forbidden, the duet between Bascombe and the orphan who has joined his staff particularly out of place and uncomfortable, declaring his love when they have not as yet even shared a scene together, Strawberry Fields is better, but unnecessary throughout are the piercing screams broadcast across the loudspeakers to punctuate the scares, which are effective without amplified reinforcement.

While the script follows the hallmarks of the period, the ungainly scene changes slow the pacing; while later performances might involve less onstage collisions, it is within the structure of the script that large props are shuffled onto stage for a single brief scene then shuffled off again, as though the writer had no regard as to how the piece would actually be performed. With further development a trip to Wychwood could become a strong piece of horror theatre, but it is unlikely to occur in this short run.

Wychwood continues at theSpace on Niddry Street until August 20th



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