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

Shivers of fright in the gloom

Terror by candlelight: Samantha Holden as Florence Kennedy and Jon Richardson as Gabriel Stokes

Darker Shores

Hall Green Little Theatre


I SUSPECT that Sea House, up on the cliffs near Hastings, will not be getting many high ratings on TripAdvisor. It has dodgy electrics, candles that blow out at will, a whole army of ghostly things that go bump in the night and a décor that could best be described as muted funereal gothic.

Michael Punter's Darker Shores, a Midland's premiere for the 2009 play incidentally, takes gloomy to new heights and cleverly uses a single set, divided up by lighting, designed by Heather Alexander,  to mix past and present  as scenes flow into each other without a pause.

Ghost stories are not that common in the modern theatre partly because they could demand difficult special effects but the best special effect of all is the mind and director Edward James Stokes manages with very little in the way of special effects apart from flickering lights, ethereal noises and darkness to create some very frightening moments, particularly in the first act. The closing of a door creates a particularly universal shiver among the audience.

The story is simple Dawrin denier Natural Scientist Gabriel Stokes  – whose take on evolution is that if we are all descended from apes why has a chimpanzee not given birth to a human – lost his wife and son ten years ago.

So as Christmas 1875 approaches Stokes (obviously no relation to the director) who has taken rooms at creepy Sea House to write his masterpiece debunking Darwin, finds the house seems to have more guests than are on the register – particularly in the attic, so  engages ex-US Civil War veteran and deserter , and now spiritual;list, Tom Beauregard to get the the bottom, or even top, of the mystery.


Stokes, sympathetically played by Jon Richardson, now a HGLT regular, is a humourless, religious man who has a somewhat literal view of the bible and religion and Richardson gives him a nice touch of pomposity

Simon Dykes' Beauregard is a more flamboyant character. At first we are not sure if he really does have any psychic powers or is just a good West Virginia carpet bagger and Dykes keeps us guessing with an accent that hardly falters from beginning to end. While Stokes his hiaunted by the ghosts of his dead wife and son, Beauregard is haunted by the civil war dead..

Housekeeper Agnes Hinchcliffe, played with bustling efficiency by Ros Davies, is looking after the house because the master has vanished while in India and hopes one day to turn it into a hotel. At least that is the tale she tells us at the start but come the second act and we find she has a terrible secret.

The only staff still left is Florence Kennedy, played beautifully by Samantha Holden, who has her own secrets, including her little boy Caleb, who she secretly brings in to stay the night sometimes - but why is Mrs Hinchcliffe so set against having the boy in the house? And why does she clean everything with Hyssop?

All will be revealed in the second act when secrets are revealed, truths told and all manner of funny goings on manifest themselves amid the smoke from under the bed and flashing lights. To reveal more would spoil the plot.

Strangely the second act did not hold the same terror as the first partly because large chunks of dialogue lost the battle with special effects of noises and voice distortion in a séance that was on the verge of drifting into melodrama.

The French windows at the rear of the well-designed set, by Stokes again, would also have benefitted from non-reflective glass or film to eliminate reflection of stage lights,

But there were enough clever twists and turns in the plot, carried by an excellent cast, to keep interest up to the end in what was an entertaining – and at times scary evening which had the audience jumping right on cue. To 09-02-13

Roger Clarke 

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