Two Ghost Stories by M.R.James performed by R.M.Lloyd Parry.
In an essay on ghost stories in 1931 M.R.James stresses that
Setting or environment, then, is to me a principal point, and the more readily appreciable the setting is to the ordinary reader the better. The other essential is that our ghost should make himself felt by gradual stirrings diffusing an atmosphere of uneasiness before the final flash or stab of horror.
On the stage of Beetham’s cosy intimate Heron Theatre a semblance of a Cambridge don’s room is set. Bookcase, with bust, stand with topcoat, smoking chair, side-table with candles, papers, a decanter. Our host, RM Lloyd Parry ambles on, lights his candles and sits, pouring himself a whisky. His bearing is that avuncular yet detached manner we are accustomed to associate with the professor. His opening lines are conversational, light, warm as he talks of the old houses of Suffolk and gradually comes around to a tale attached to one such hall. Thus the audience is drawn in, by James’ prose of course, but also by Parry-as-James’ careful portrayal. A pause here, a slight stammer there, a moment’s thought before continuing, all lead into a feeling of intimacy: this is a fireside tale between acquaintances of places and people known to us, and we are enthralled.
Lit only by his candles Parry nuances his telling, offering laughter, reason and period details until the revelation of ghastly horror that we know is coming but cannot anticipate.
The Ash Tree is a tale of witchcraft, vengeance and history. The more famous Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come To You, My Lad a cautionary tale of scepticism, meddling and nocturnal visitation.
In each case Parry, with little gestures, moving to accentuate the flickering candle shadows, and modulating his voice accordingly, increased the atmosphere of unease, uncertainty, and finally terror to his dreadful climax.
A solo show is always a great achievement, but Parry in this instance produces a tour de force to match his material. He tours this, and other James tales, around the country, and DVDs of other shows can be found at his website. I’ll save watching The Mezzotint for a night when I’m sure the wind won’t rattle the windows.
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