dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
Things go bump in the night at a deserted manor house
It may not be Halloween yet but there are plenty of ghostly goings-on at Birmingham's Blue Orange theatre with the new production The Wicked Lady. Written and directed by The Hockley theatre's artistic director and chief executive James Williams, the play is inspired by the legend of noblewoman turned highwaywoman Katherine Ferrers, known as the Wicked Lady, who is said to haunt the village of Markyate in Hertfordshire.
Ferrers' tale is the background to a modern-day mystery in which a child has been abducted and the police are on the case but call in the help of paranormal debunker Alice Beaumont to investigate. After some initial reluctance, Alice agrees to spend a few nights at Ferrers' disused manor house Markyate Cell – which is where the bumps in the night begin.
Williams builds the tension well – every audience member is willing Alice not to go alone, knowing things will get messy and, from the moment the first window slams without explanation, we are holding our breath waiting for the next spooky event. But the play does fall into the trap of over-complicating the story and throwing too much into the end. The narrative would benefit from stripping out some of the lengthy explanations and final incidents as it risks losing its clarity and its fear factor. In the introduction, we've been told how the fear of something is often worse than it actually happening and this holds for drama as much as the story. We are on the edge of our seats waiting for horror but less is often more effective in this genre.
Williams and set and lighting designer Alex Johnson make good use of the space and special effects. Blue Orange is a small theatre, so the audience feels they are in the manor house alongside Alice and at times, the show comes into the auditorium.
Nicki Davy as Alice
Nicki Davy is superb as Alice. Initially sceptical to the point of scornful, she refuses to believe any of the strange incidents are supernatural but eventually there comes a point where even she cannot explain away the happenings. Davy is largely a sole actor during the manor house scenes and yet she successfully holds our interest as she runs around looking for clues and watching over her shoulder.
Saul Bache plays the detective sergeant Sean Fenton. He is suave and likeable, fencing off Alice's prickly comments and winning the audience over to his unstinting efforts to discover the whereabouts of the missing child.
Saul Bache as DS Fenton
Look away now if you don't want any spoilers - but Abbie Henderson plays Katherine as a menacing presence over the show.
Bearing in mind the difficulties faced by theatres over the past 18 months, Williams and Blue Orange should be commended for being brave enough to premiere a new work when audience numbers are still so changeable and there is much to like in this production. It will pull you in and hold you rapt – it's certainly not a show for the faint-hearted.
The Wicked Lady plays Blue Orange Theatre until 16 October, seehttps://www.jwtheatres.co.uk/ orhttps://www.wickedladylive.com/ for information and tickets.