Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

lord and davi

Tom Cooper as David Filde and Mark Natrass as Lord Gray.

Pictures: Christopher Commander

The Haunting

Sutton Arts Theatre


Horror. It only really works if it comes with a dire warning for anyone with a heart condition - and with the jumps, oohs, gasps and shudders among the audience at Sutton Arts, perhaps there was a need for a cardiac arrest unit on standby outside after all.

The plot itself is simple enough. A young antiquarian book dealer is sent to value the contents of the library, part of the estate of the late Lord Gray. He has been sent at the request of the new Lord who was expecting a more senior member of the firm, so is hardly impressed by his arrival.

The house is isolated, cold, dark, and beset by rumours and fearful warnings in the village of strange goings on up at t'big house, which is a prerequisite of any horror tale, and the house, high, upon the desolate moor of course, encompasses all the other failings and peculiarities of a des-res Gothic mansion ripe for a tale of the supernatural.

We open with David Filde, the nephew of the owner of a leading London book dealer, asleep in a chair after his long journey. It is the start of a fine performance from Tom Cooper who gives him a sort of boyish innocence and, importantly, manages to convey a real sense of terror when the need arises. 


Tom Cooper as David Filde

It is a clever ploy, Cooper’s convincing shock and fear permeates through the audience. His screaming and panic when he finds himself locked in puts the audience on edge, tensed up ready for the terrors to come.

Mark Nattrass is a rather matter of fact Lord Gray. He hates the house and you suspect had no time for his late father and, to put a tin hat on it, is less than happy to discover the estate, his inheritance, is close to bankruptcy – his mood not enhanced when he discovers young Filde’s book dealership is owed 800 guineas for books they had supplied to his late father in the past.

As the books are slowly catalogued and valued the house slowly reveals its shocking secrets. Books fly from shelves, spectres appear floating in a tree beyond the window revealed in the age-old horror tradition of a flash of lightning, or the ghosts shelter from the rain by appearing through walls, voices call for help, footsteps echo through the empty house, unlocked doors lock and empty chairs revolve with spectres sitting in them.

Nattrass’s Lordship dismisssed all the rumours and warnings, he was not the friendliest of chaps to start off with and was more frightened of Filde undervaluing his books. The strange goings on he saw as the creaking and drafts of the cold, ancient house but even he – the great unbeliever, was starting to doubt once he heard the voices and saw the ghost of . . . well that’s the question(s). Who and why, when and how?

Papers hidden in books and behind shelves reveal their own secrets. We learn of Lord Gray’s Hussar brother, killed in Crimea, which sets the period we are in as somewhere in the latter half of the 19th century, we are told of a thwarted marriage, of a secret pregnancy, then there is the mystery of Filde’s missing sister, Mary - and the mysterious sound of a mobile phone ringing at the rear of the audience more than a hundred years before they were invented. Although that was possibly unscripted.


Mark Natrass as Lord Gray

The end is, let’s say unexpected, raising far more questions than it actually answers, not least of which is what exactly have we been watching . . . was it past, present, future, a nightmare, a premonition, or most frightening, did we even see it at all?

Author Hugh Janes has welded together some of Charles Dickens’ ghost stories to create The Haunting, ghost stories perhaps being the lesser known of Dickens’ talents. He wrote more than two dozen, but many were inserted in his novels, The Pickwick Papers, had one of the first for example, and A Christmas Carol was built on them.

But he wrote many as short stories such as The Signalman or novellas such as The Haunted Man, the last of his Christmas ghost stories.

The plot is hardly going to tax the brain, but it works partly from fine acting, but also from a fabulous set which is down the master set builder and designer, the same Mark Natrass. No wonder it was difficult to convince Lord Gray it was ghosts!

Sutton Arts stage is a WYSIWYG stage, no wings, no flies so even with a one set production life can be difficult with a need to have access for a stage crew to have books flying off shelves, shelves collapsing, ghosts appearing through walls and, to top it all, after all the devastation, everything magically returning to how it was with neat, well stocked shelves in a sunlit, Victorian library, all on a darkened stage in full view, with no stage hands, in a matter of a minute or so.

Natrass and his 10 strong team created the set in record time, and it deserves its own bow, as did David Ashton’s lighting and Richard Irons’ sound, controlled by four operators. They had to be spot on or the fear factor would be diminished or even lost entirely and they didn’t miss a beat.

So many things to go wrong and none did.

A few words were indistinct early on and dialogue had to contend with a a storm raging on the moor at times, but it settled down into a well paced journey into Gothic horror with shocks a plenty, and, let us be honest, it was frightful fun. We love being scared, which is why a fairground haunted house is so popular, that sudden shock to make you jump and then smile . . . and let us not forget the real star of the show, Sydney Richmond in her bridal gown as the spirit, she was . . . dead good.

Directed by Patrick Richmond-Ward, Sutton Arts will be haunted to 28-10-23

Roger Clarke


Sutton Arts 

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