The least frightening ghost of all time holds court in RC Sherriff’s 1953 little-performed play ‘The White Carnation’. This spook is dressed for dinner with a flower in his buttonhole, and is just as confused about his situation as everyone else.
West London’s Finborough Theatre has dug this intriguing play out of obscurity for the first time in 60 years. It’s not really a ghost story − Sherriff quickly banishes any sense of an ethereal spirit world and shoves the deceased John Greenwood into an environment of local politics and petty bureaucracy.
He’s turned up looking alive, but definitely dead. Seven years ago he, his wife and his friends were blown to bits by a German bomber during the war, which for the town council – who were hoping to redevelop his house − is a nightmare. The Home Office believes he’s technically an illegal immigrant and he’s completely bewildered the vicar. The hows, whys and wherefores of his predicament remain mostly obscure.
It’s an odd mix of Dickens’s ‘A Christmas Carol’, JB Priestley’s ‘An Inspector Calls’ and the ’70s TV show ‘Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)’. At times it’s very funny, especially with Benjamin Whitrow’s witty portrayal of a local religious man, whose discussion on whether Greenwood stays C of E after death is wonderfully surreal.
Aden Gillett’s rough-round-the-edges businessman Greenwood has an understated strength and the entire cast in Knight Mantell’s pale grey-hued production are very strong. Though Sherriff’s script is fairly ridged in its structure, with most scenes a conversation between the dead man and one of the many characters who are alive, the humour is light and subtle, the dialogue engaging.
Though it tries, the play never reaches the poignant heights of ‘Journey’s End’ − the play Sherriff was best known for − but it is clearly the work of an excellent playwright and it is a treat to see the piece given such a fine production.
By Daisy Bowie-Sell