An ersatz melodrama with a would-be political message, Alexi Kaye Campbell’s new play is certainly ambitious. His previous work includes modern parables ‘The Pride’ and ‘The Faith Machine’, but this one is a period yarn about a wealthy Yorkshire industrialist and his wife. The year is 1937, ten years after the pair lost their 12-year-old son in an accident on the nearby moor.
Father Harold has retreated into hardened pragmatism, but his wife Elizabeth remains haunted by guilty memories. All must be resolved when the family friends come up from London with their radical young son who used to play with the now dead boy.
In the first half Kaye Campbell stokes mild supernatural thrills. But not content with settling for a spooky ghost story in the mould of Susan Hill’s ‘The Woman In Black’, in act two he tries to say something deep. Dickensian notions of social responsibility are thrown in as the hard-faced father resists pleas from a good-hearted foreman not to sack 140 workers. And there’s a strong dose of Brontë-esque psychology with the ghost in the attic. The result, however, is melodramatic in form and content: cumbersome exposition, portentous dialogue and precious little character development.
Polly Teale’s production feels ponderously old fashioned and even formulaic on Tom Piper’s set of a giant wooden staircase lit by flashes of ghoulish lightning. Daniel Flynn fits the bill as the implacably rational Harold who refuses to change, while Helen Schlesinger tries to take her grieving Elizabeth on an emotional journey but remains a sanctimonious vamp. Joseph Timms as the youth who’s supposed to waken them from their tortured sleep is a barely challenged, self-righteous upstart. There’s light relief from Sarah Woodward and Simon Shepherd as the stuffy friends from London, but like most melodramas, much is promised and little delivered.
By Patrick Marmion