The setting for Nunkie Theatre’s double bill of ghost stories at Tobacco Factory Theatre is understatedly perfect: a high backed armchair and a solitary lit candle from which to bring to life three others that are placed in a candelabra you could imagine Peter Cushing carrying with a frown along an endless dark hall. Robert Lloyd Parry enters, sits, grabs ahold of some yellowing papers and pours himself a whisky from a crystal decanter and a water jug, taking care to do this as though he has all the time in he world. He makes himself comfortable, transforming into the late 19th/early 20th Century writer and scholar, M.R. James, to whom Lloyd Parry is said to bear a striking resemblance.
James is credited with being the originator of the antiquarian ghost story and, here, Lloyd Parry scares us with two of them, The Ash Tree and the better known Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad, both set in the eastern English county of Suffolk.
Act I. The Ash Tree tells of what befell Sir Matthew Fell of Castringham Hall and his relatives after his role in condemning local villager, Mrs Mothersole, to death by hanging, her hellish punishment during an earlier era of high paranoia and over zealous witch finders. The Ash Tree outside the hall seems to hold a dark energy, so both Sir Matthew and, years later, his grandson, Sir Richard Fell, discover as they sleep under its eerie finger-like branches.
Act II. Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You is the curious story of one Cambridge Professor Parkins, who travels to the village of Burnstow, where he intends to write and perfect his golf. Stumbling across a Knights Templar ruin on a windswept East Anglian beach, Parkins chances upon an old whistle, the blowing of which leads to supernatural encounters, shocking the non-believing professor to his very core.
Robert Lloyd Parry, like M.R. James before him, is a master of his field, relaying these eerie matter-of-fact stories of olde England with a certain knowingness, drawing in the audience as it hangs onto his every word, hushed by his upper crust English voice, silent in the spookiness of it all. But, for sure, this isn’t all about well-crafted words spun with delicious shudder-inducing vocals; there is performance here too as our storyteller twists and turns, scratches his head, wonders …
In The Ash Tree, Lloyd Parry does something rather remarkable with his head and hands as he moves them erratically by the light of that one candle – he is Sir Richard Fell, driven to the depths of despair and disbelief (even, possibly, madness) under the watchful eye of that forsaken tree, all the time never losing vocal pace. And, thank the spirits that I’d put down my pint of Bristol Beer Factory ale because, at one point, he startled me enough to have thrown the entire contents over the woman in front of me. Lucky escape.
I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on Nunkie Theatre, hoping to catch more spine-chilling ghost stories and I’m already checking out the writings of M.R. James. Who doesn’t love a good scare, after all?
You can find out more about Nunkie Theatre on their website
Image by Shelagh Bidwell, with thanks