Iím a freelance journalist and published poet, based in Manchester.
My debut poetry pamphlet is available at www.wildpressedbooks.com/david-keyworth.html
Shiver me timbers
As Dr Roy Earle observes - we all love to be scared. He is a resolutely sceptical American visitor to an English manor house.
He's fond of saying 'baloney' in an accent which sounds a bit like John Wayne - if he'd spent some time in Manchester. He's on a declared crusade against 'cheap carnival acts cashing in on grief'. He wants to debunk the notion of being able to contact the dead. In particular, he wants to expose Cairo, the celebrated medium and mind reader, as a fraud.
Cairo is played with wonderful sinister Germanic campness by Andrew Yates (he'd be great as the Emcee in Cabaret).
Earle is played by Peter Slater - an actor from the magnificent JB Shorts series. He comes into conflict with the other guests including Vincent de Lambre' - custodian of Blaine Manor - played with a vintage- timbered voice by Ed Barry.
The first half of the evening plays like a traditional Agatha Christie style story with lots of who's and the why's and introductions. The tempo of the first half seemed slightly hesitant - maybe a side-effect of the actors doing roughly one performance a week. On the other hand, it could have been a clever foreshadowing of the eventual twist in the tale.
But before the interval, the atmosphere intensifies like a stormy sky with the introduction of the undead servant - Grady (played by the writer Joe O'Byrne).
Jo Haydock as Vivian Rutledge. Photo by Karen McBride
The setting for any ghost story is vital and Todmorden's Hippodrome fitted the bill like a dream palace of casting. Its Victorian-style stalls and circle format, decorated with ornamental flourishes, felt like going back in time. It is a theatre run by volunteers - who, in 2015, had the additional challenge of regenerating the venue after the floods.
The drama really hits its stride in the second half. I half-guessed the twist but it turns the psychological knife deeper than at first seems likely. Joe O'Byrne's script goes beyond his self-confessed wish to conjure up a period piece and gives a penetrating analysis of the burden of guilt and grief.
The Haunting of Blaine Manor is a play which rewards the attention of its audience and deserves an afterlife beyond its current tour of the north of England.