Everyman Theatre has crafted a captivating evening of suspense and mystery with three stories that would fit neatly into the genre of Tales of the Unexpected. The production of the trio of tales also had the feel of theatre when the focus was on the story telling, stripped of production excesses and directorial psychobabble (or box ticking that so often damage rather than enhance but attracts public sector funding).
Joshua Ogle. Image by Tim Ferguson
The first piece was a powerful dramatic monologue delivered by Joshua Ogle. The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Alan Poe is complex in its simplicity. The narrator tells us of a murder he has carefully planned and executed all in the context of denying he is mad and gives examples of details of the macabre episode to show why he is not mad. It is powerfully performed with effective use of minimal props (and is all the better for it), using the curtain that cuts the front of the stage from the rear which is already has the set for the next of the tales. Our actor is intricately directed by Simon Futty and holds our attention perfectly.
This is a well know story of the cursed The Monkey’s Paw from W. W. Jacobs where two devoted parents, playe dby Brian Smith and Lois Banks, idiolise their young but sceptical adult son, played by James Arkinstall . They are given this Monkey’s Paw talisman by their visitor Sergeant Major Morris (post First World War and on hard times?) played by Andrew Massocchi. He tells them that it grants three wishes, but with the warning that it never ends well. It won’t be spoiling the enjoyment to reveal it doesn’t. A knock on the door from a rather smart representative of the electrical factory, played by Wil Chivers has some unpleasant news and an envelope to deliver. The house is lit by oil lamps while the son works in an electricity generating factory – representing changing times as well as the attitudes of the protagonists. This macabre period drama is also directed by Simon Futty.
Brian Smith and Lois Banks. Image Tim Ferguson
J B Priestley’s one-act morality play The Rose & Crown was specially written for television and it has that specially written television play for the BBC and although adapted for the stage in 1947 it retains that feel of the sort of tv drama those with some grey hairs remembers from their 1960s childhoods.
Perhaps to make us realise the human condition rarely changes, the pub starts with the contemporary and before the action starts all the changeable ornamentation and pictures change to that of a previous reign, including the English flag to a Union Jack interestingly
A motley crew of regulars arrive and individually present themselves and their reason for being moaners, ranging from obsession with their own health (Mrs Reed wittily played by Joanna Yurs) to (post-war?) shortages from Stone played by Darren Perks, the young couple Ivy and Percy Randle played by Laura Pike and James Aust and the delightfully awful Ma Peck played by Linda Vickers. Gregor Owens plays the more contented Harry Tully.
Cressida Ford and Linda Vickers. Image by Keith Stanbury
We never see the barman to whom they talk and ask for their drinks (these miraculously appear behind the bar – very covid), The point of the tale is the mystery stranger, a representative of the grim reaper, a Stranger who needs one more soul to complete her tally for the day and asks: who wants to volunteer? Cressida Ford plays the Stranger as a robotic creation, who can wind back time, mimic each of the characters, so something of a mechanical messenger of the “boss”.
This is a perfect vehicle for a cast of fine actors to create the distinctive characters and skilfully directed by Wayne Vincent.
The complete hat trick also demonstrates that Everyman deserves its reputation for strong drama. It is also good to see so many actors on stage in the different pieces (and, of course, the behind the scenes crew).
Strange Tales from Everyman Theatre. The Tell-Tale Heart, The Monkey’s Paw and The Rose & Crown.
Chapter Arts Centre, Seligman Theatre. Until November 20. Tickets £14, £12. Tel 029 20311050. www.chapter.org