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

Loud and clear stage whisper

The cast of Whispers in the Dark who came together for a first class show

Whispers in the Graveyard

Hall Green Youth Theatre


IF a youth theatre is to have any real purpose it needs to accommodate everyone, to give everyone a chance and director Roy Palmer has managed that with aplomb – and a cast of 36.

The play is adapted by Richard Conlon and Theresa Breslin from ex-librarian Breslin's childrens' novel of the same name and looks at two issues which affect children in the real world intertwined with a tale about the supernatural – frighteners have always been good to get children interested.

Set in Scotland, and thankfully Palmer did not take the high, or low road into Scottish accents, Jimmy,  the play centres around Solomon, played with a mature sensitivity by Jack Heath. Solomon is dyslexic and, unable to read or write, he is seen as thick, slow, dim-witted and all the other labels stuck on those with learning difficulties.

His illiteracy coupled with a father who is an alcoholic and abusive, played gruffly or weasely depending up alcohol content, by Mathew Burkett – mother (Chloe Dugmore) left because she had had enough -  means Solomon is not so much a loser but had already lost before the race even started.

It was a fix from birth and just to add to his problems there is Mr Watkins, a bullying, pompous, horrid excuse for a teacher played with the sort of nastiness that brings instant hatred from the audience by Ryan Luton.  He picked on Sol at every opportunity, humiliating him as much as he could before finally dumping him in the infant class with Ms Talmur, played with suitable compassion and efficiency by Iona Taylor.

For the first time Sol has found someone who not only understands him and his problem but is prepared to help him.

But around that main thread is woven a second tale about witches and smallpox epidemics and a miller who diverted a stream and a now disused graveyard, the scene of the whispers, where our troubled Solomon has been finding peace and solitude.

Nasty Watkins (Ryan Luton), friend Peter (Ross Shaw) and unfortunate Solomon (Jack Heath)

The peace is shattered when workmen arrive to clear the site along with Prof Miller, played with a touch of the academic by Oscar Davies, who is assessing the graveyard for possible smallpox spore danger from an epidemic 150 years ago. He brings with him his young daughter Amy, played as a young girl should be by Emily Beaton

When a mysterious Rowan tree is uprooted as part of the redevelopment all manner of supernatural nasties are set free as we find out what was actually buried under the Mountain Ash (cue flash of lightning and crash of thunder).

We find out about Malefice (don't read it out loud or all manner of ghouls and stuff in black will pop up) which means witchcraft and we learn of a witch burned at the stake in 1722. Burning was a particularly Scottish punishment for witchcraft  in Britain, in England we hanged ‘em.

With the tree, which had acted as a sort of cork holding back the forces of darkness, uprooted the sprits are abroad luring both Solomon and Amy to the graveyard with its talking gravestones, black clad spirits and voices from behind the audience – it's a bit disconcerting when you have the whispers and shouts  of evil by your right ear hole I can tell you.

We also had a miller and his wife and a baby that died – quite a busy little graveyard I can tell you. Halloween it must be like New Street station in rush hour!

Holding it all together, and acting as narrator is Sol's best friend Peter, played by Ross Shaw, who works at a nice, gentle pace, allowing the action to finish and the stage to clear before moving on to the next chapter, keeping everything clear and focused.

Palmer has also introduced groups of children as a sort of Greek chorus to fill in gaps and explain things.

Ms Talmur (Iona Taylor) clashes with alcoholic dad (Mathew Burkett)

We also have a teacher (Kiara Mackay) who brings her class through the graveyard only to be told of the strange goings on and the tale of Solomon Morris to first set the scene and the return to close the action.

There is also clever use of a huge back wall with projected images of gravestones, dramatic skies, schools, books, filthy living rooms and kitchens and that historic tree. Scenery is limited to a low, narrow grass covered block the length of the stage with three gravestones (Shannon Kavanagh, Lucy O'Neill and Clare Doherty) yet with the atmospheric projection allied to clever lighting using multicoloured LED spots, all operated by Liz Neil, the bare stage was hardly noticed.

The atmospheric sound controlled by Louise Price also added to the staging.

Youth theatre always presents some difficulties for the actors, the price of youth. Acting is about imagination, imagination of being the character, imagining what they are like, how they react and feel, who they are and then making them believable. For youngsters playing adults it is imagination without experience, the experience of actually being an adult to back it up and this particular group of youngsters did a fine job in combatting that.

We warmed to Sol and his plight and willed Ms Talmus to help him, hated bully Watkins with a vengeance and, to be honest, thought dad was taking up space that could be used for something useful – until we learned the truth that is.

It is a moody drama and after a slightly weird opening with previews of what was to come, it settled down into a most entertaining, if a bit disturbing, evening.

Roger Clarke


The fictional witch burning in 1722 would have been one of the last before the practice was ended, for witchcraft at least, in 1727.

Burning at the stake for other offences went on until 1789 when Catherine Murphy had the dubious honour of being the last burning in Britain, at Newgate Prison, for counterfeiting, and she had been hanged first and only her body burned.

Meanwhile the last cases of smallpox anywhere in the world was at Birmingham University in 1978 when a medical photographer from Kings Norton contracted the disease when spores escaped from a research lab. She died but her mother, who contracted the disease from her, survived. It is a case I remember well as I was news editor of The Birmingham Post the night the story broke as a Post front page exclusive which the next day was to become world news


Home Reviews A-Z Reviews by affiliate