A Pleasing Terror

  
My love of all things spooky is no secret, so I’m looking forward to a treat this Friday – a trip to The Lighthouse in Poole, to hear actor Robert Lloyd Parry read two of M.R. James’ best-known ghost stories. 

The evening is entitled ‘A Pleasing Terror’, and if the show I saw last year is anything to go by, it will be spine-tinglingly good. You’ll notice I’ve stolen the above image from an article on the Guardian website. I was going to take a photo of the set so I could blog about it, but I fell down the stairs, and thereafter was too embarassed. A warning to the curious, indeed. But it was worth it for a closer look. 

What I love most about this concept is the way M.R. James’ study is recreated on stage, with props ranging from a comfortable leather armchair, to (in last year’s production) a bowl of soup; and a handkerchief of crumpled linen, deployed at the optimum moment. Old photographs and postcards; strange brass instruments; used crockery – I’m not even sure if all those things were on the stage that night, or if I was so entrenched in the atmosphere that I imagined them. Real candlelight completes the picture, and is used to dramatic effect in a deft piece of shadow puppetry. The attention to detail is fantastic, bringing to life not just the characters and events of the stories, but Montague Rhodes James himself – scholar, antiquary and master storyteller. Robert Lloyd Parry is fantastic in the role. 

Tying into another of my slightly odd interests, I was also pleased last year to recognise the eerie high voice of counter-tenor Alfred Deller, singing thematically appropriate music (from beyond the grave, natch) while the audience entered the auditorium. 

You can see the influence Nunkie Theatre had on our Halloween set-up this year, also themed around the idea of the story teller. You’ll have to take my word for it that this looked a lot more impressive in real life…!

Halloween at Hemlock Hall, 2015 -  the reading room.

In which a darkened room doesn’t photograph very well.

If you’re able to get to one of the remaining dates on Nunkie Theatre’s current tour, it comes highly recommended. And if you aren’t, a DVD is conveniently available; though you may then have to watch out for the proverbial ghost in the machine…

The sound of the sea.

Arts By the Sea Festival Opening Weekend – September 2013. An account of a mysterious marriage, rendered in purple prose and pencil by yours truly…

(It’s the sound, it’s the sound of the sea.)

Dressed in white with ceremonial red crowns, a train of women make their way through the town, chanting strange words of the sea and a mysterious sacrifice. They are accompanied by a motley crew of officials – a choirmistress, a souvenir seller, a chimney sweep – and me: a hanger-on; an impromptu wedding guest. Somebody has given me a small paper flag with a silver horseshoe, and I wave it self-consciously.

Passing through the square and towards the lower gardens, crowds line up in the gathering gloom, capturing the spectacle with cameras and mobile phones. People are curious, but not surprised: there’s an arts festival happening, and they’ve learned to expect the unexpected. I walk near a gaggle of brightly-dressed characters in Commedia dell’Arte masks, whose cheerful song and comic capering add an air of exuberance to the solemn parade.

We are now heading for the sea, and at the pier, the procession pauses. There is eerie music and a sense of foreboding. The sky is a deep electric blue, and coming across the water is a small boat lit by strings of yellow bulbs. The brides are illuminated, too, by torches clutched in nervous hands. Their pale, carefully made-up faces glow. They wait and the crowd waits.

A short time later, as the brides recede into the distance aboard the little ferry, I lean on the pier railings and think about what has just happened. A woman I meet tells me she’s heard that the brides are in fact on their way to Poole, where they will go on a post-parade pub crawl. The mental image of 50 or so women in second-hand wedding dresses descending on quay-side drinking establishments is as surreal as anything else I’ve seen tonight. Then I go and take a last look at the giant robot horse parked on the seafront, before going home.

Sketch for a picture inspired by the Marriage of the Sea parade

Sketch for a picture inspired by the event, which I might finish one day.

 

Note: for some excellent atmospheric photos of the event, see this website. Look carefully, and you might spot the impromptu wedding guest in the red scarf under the word ‘Rapunzel’.