Summerhall, Edinburgh – until 31 October
Then touring to 16 January 2016
“Ghoulish”: Suitably disturbing in its content and pleasingly rounded in its construction, Peapod Productions’ The Moonlit Road and other ghostly tales still has uneven patches in its presentation.
There’s no doubting the intensity of performer Philip Kingscott, however, who creates an hour of ghoulish theatre which is made for cold October nights around Halloween. With a clatter of thunder and shudder of reverb, he breaks into the attic set, desperately searching for some clue, twisting and clawing through the piles of papers. With cries of anguish he discovers his recently deceased mother’s letter to himself.
From that letter this uncomfortable narrator twists back through a nest of stories, jumping back up the paternal Hetman family line, conveniently illustrated in chalk on the back of the anatomy lecture theatre.
There is a rather irritating over-reliance on pre-recorded voiceovers as Kingscott begins each narrative, which could have been avoided. But on the whole it is a clever structure for a series of disturbing ghost stories, tightly woven together by writers Caroline Dunford and Graham Gibson.
Director Andy Corelli brings strong performances for Kingscott’s creation of the the different Hetmans. The standard tricks of the solo show performer are used well enough although there still needs to be more work in the transitions.
And it would certainly benefit from a bit more attention to the nuances of pace and volume. Largely because of the rather precise needs of this echoing venue, but not exclusively, as there are points where you just long to hear Kingscott have the confidence in his own voice to carry the narrative rather than sound effects.
The Hetman Family Tree by Ryoko Tamura. Photo: Peapod Productions
The meat of the evening, though, is chilling. Simply because Kingscott is an engaging enough storyteller to bring stories to life that are familiar in their pattern, if not in their particularity.
Here are tales of a haunted boarding school, with an unused stairway that you know will have to be ascended and keyless lock that will have to be opened. Kingscott knows that it is how these events fall out that matters, and how much you can make you invest in the truth of his character.
Perhaps it is the current preoccupation with the centenary of the first world war, but the most effective tale is set then. Here, Kingscott encounters Sergeant Edward Hetman, squelching through a mess of flesh, blood and faeces. It’s a nightmare hell to start with and Kingscott has no problem in dragging the imagination even deeper into the mire.
For the obverse reason, in that the situation is not as familiar as it once was, the least effective tale is of a seaman lost in the rolling mist on a voyage to Shanghai. Although it raises contemporary fears in such a way as to take itself to the bleeding edge of discomfort in listening to Kingscott recount it.
The title tale, of a genteel husband married far below his station whose discoveries about his wife are not as they first appear, gives the whole a nicely classic feel – and is very well rounded off.
A hauntingly good evening out which, if it doesn’t chill to the marrow, still builds and sustains the necessary frisson of terror.
Running time 1 hour 5 mins (no interval)
Summerhall, 1 Summerhall, EH9 1PL
Wednesday 28 – Saturday 31 October 2015
Evenings 8.00 pm
Details and tickets from http://www.summerhall.co.uk/2015/the-moonlit-road-and-other-ghostly-tales/
Peapod Productions website: www.peapodproductions.co.uk
Peapod Productions on Facebook: www.facebook.com
The Moonlit Road on tour:
28-31 Oct: 8pm
0131 560 1580
1/2 Nov: 8pm
16 Jan 2016: 8pm