The Canterville Ghost at Southwark Playhouse
Small theatres are wonderful. The energy is more tangible than in a larger amphitheatre and the potential for audience interaction is untapped. At the Southwark Playhouse, Tall Stories’s new adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s novella, The Canterville Ghost, displays just how magical small theatres can be.
Framed as an early Victorian music hall performance, complete with an illusionist, psychic and ventriloquist, The Canterville Ghost roars along at a quick pace while maintaining a wonderfully tongue-in-cheek style. The titular spooky story makes up only half the actual show, the remainder focusing on the individual performers’ acts and some fantastic musical numbers. That might seem unfocused, but in reality the music hall approach actually makes for an evening of sometimes lighthearted, sometimes hard-hitting, but genuinely wonderful entertainment.
The plot of The Canterville Ghost is fairly simple: the Otis family purchases Canterville Hall (Chase in the book), and finds it possessed by the spirit of Sir Simon de Canteville, who was accused of murdering his wife and now stalks the corridors, rattling his chains. Upon discovering the ghost, the Otis family are fairly nonplussed, instead facing him head-on in a series of comic vignettes. Outside of the main story, these shows feature audience engagement, singalongs and nicely balanced contextualising, as the performers themselves have a tale or two to tell.
The cast are wonderful, and maintain a fantastically engaging energy throughout. Particular praise must be heaped on Matt Jopling, whose ventriloquism features some genuinely novel ideas, keeping it from falling into well-trodden territory. Similarly funny is Katie Trainer, whose psychic is equal parts impressive and hilarious. Similarly remarkable is the staging, where relatively simple set design is used in a myriad of creative ways, completely transforming the space.
There are few better indicators of a show’s impact than looking around at the audience’s faces after the house lights have come up, and, at the end of The Canterville Ghost, everyone was beaming. It is a play fit for the small stage, and one that certainly shows how the spirit of theatre lives on in the venues far away from the glowing lights and high prices of the West End.
Photo: Charles Flint
The Canterville Ghost is at Southwark Playhouse from 11th October until 5th November 2022. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.