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

edith head

Edith in the dark

The Grange Players

The Grange Playhouse


EDITH Nesbit, who is perhaps best known as the author of The Railway Children, must have been a cheery soul to be around.

If playwright Philp Meeks is to be believed she hated children, hated parties, hated Christmas – Scrooge would have loved her – but on a brighter note, though, she only loathed her husband, Hubert.

She had married the bank clerk when she was 21 and seven months pregnant, whereupon he carried on living with his mother.

Hubert was a congenital philanderer with one mistress, Edith was to discover, being her good friend Alice, who Hubert forced Edith to not only accept as their housekeeper, but also to accept his two children by Alice as their own.

Add to that her father died when she was four and her son Fabian, named after the Fabian Society which she helped found, died from a routine tonsil operation when 15, and her life had hardly been a bundle of laughs.

She was a prolific writer though for both children and adults with four collections of horror stories to her name, three published before the 1899 arrival of her first children’s book, The Story of The Treasure Seekers.

And it is in to this unconventional world that Edith in the Dark takes us with Nesbit in her attic writing room where she has a penchant for dead lillies. She is hiding away on Christmas Eve 1909 while Hubert’s tedious and raucous party can be heard in full swing in the house below.

With her is Mr Guasto, a declared fan of Edith’s writing who lives nearby and who has sneaked into the party just to catch a glimpse of her.

She has taken him up to her attic where, it seems, she hopes to seduce him – the words goose and gander spring to mind.

But he will have none of it and just wants her to read for him, suggedith nesbitesting The Railway Children. Bad idea. Edith hates the book and picks instead one of her collections of horror stories.

In a measured start the pair are joined by Biddy Thricefold, the housekeeper, who has arrived to check on a young girl who had fainted and been brought to an adjoining attic room by Mr Guasto.

Edith Nesbit wrote horror stories before her children's classics

All nice and cosy although you have to feel uneasy. Nothing to put your finger on but somehow something is not ringing true. All is not as it seems. Still time is pressing so let the reading begin . . .

Samantha Allan, gives us a somewhat humourless and bitter Nesbit with hardly the most alluring or enticing seduction technique, a woman seemingly devoid of all emotion save resentment. You are not sure if she wanted Guasto for pleasure or revenge.

Her horror stories perhaps reflect the dark shadows in her own mind. Gothic tales where every hero, heroine or lover ends up dead, and not in a nice, romantic way. The body count makes even Midsommer look like a healthy place to live. And is that a glint of amusement in her eye at the prospect of frightening and sickening her audience with her alternative desolate romances?.

Rob Meehan’s Mr Guasto is a squeamish and sensitive soul, hating the bleakness and despair which seems to be the hall mark of stories where the only fulfilment of love comes in death.

As for Lynne Young’s Biddy. Well she enjoys a good grisly horror story, the more gruesome the better, as she works her way through the supplies of spiced punch she brought with her.

The readings, four of them, turn into dramas of their own, picking up pace as they go, with the three characters nimbly enacting the tales, switching roles, ages and sexes – with Biddy delighting and amusing in equal parts with her ancient Black Country ratcatcher, to northern peasants and West Country yokels, visiting the more colourful by-ways of the English language. She also gives us the more serious and  mysterious woman in the painting who has made a pact with the devil.

Nesbit, invariably is the devil in that one, but manages sweet and innocent, old and young, housekeeper, scheming disloyal friend, ghost and zombie while Guasto fits in as a lover boy – which is a bit of a death sentence in Nesbit tales – a zombie (is there a pattern forming here?) andedith flyer a splendidly unattractive but fabulously rich heiress who, having found love in the shape of Biddy’s phoney, gold-digging colonel meets her inevitable end from a man, or in this case, woman-eating plant introduced as a posy by her zombie best friend.

The plots might be a bit hammy - imagine Victorian melodrama done by Hammer - but our trio do a sterling job, entering into them with gusto, producing some tongue in cheek moments of horror which brought more smiles than shrieks from the audience – until the end that is.

Nesbit’s readings are ended and the book closed, dawn approaches, Christmas has arrived and reality is restored – except reality brings the final account and its spine tingling twist to end the evening with a real tinge of terror. Told you something was not right at the very beginning . . .

Director Rachel Waters has done a good job in keeping a lid on the horror, resisting the temptation to play for laughs or to get too hammy, and moves the story along in a well-paced way from the start, when we are introduced to the abrasive Edith, picking up momentum as the horrors unfold.

She has also produced a convincing attic set, with peeling walls, cobwebs and the sort of junk that ends up there, from trunks and suitcases to cricket gear,

A mention too for Colin Mears’ sound and Stan Vugurs’ lighting. Background sound, such as the party, was enough to hear and create atmosphere without ever impinging on dialogue – and he even managed to make the audience jump a couple of times.

As for lighting, each tale was imaginatively lit to create atmosphere and the fire scene using just lighting and a smoke machine was particularly effective.

I am not quite sure what to make of the play; it was a clever concept, commissioned by Harrogate Theatre for December 2013, incidentally, in the theatre’s tradition of staging studio ghost stories to compliment the main house Christmas pantomime.

It is interesting and certainly beautifully produced and performed but you leave feeling a little unfulfilled. It whets appetites; you are left wondering about the real story of E Nesbit, it gives you a glimpse and you want to know more – truth in this case seeming to be much stranger than fiction. And in that, perhaps it has served a purpose. It brings Edith out of the dark and into the spotlight.

As a play it is certainly different, with a chill factor at the end and it produces three marvellous performances to enjoy from a fine cast. To 21-04-16.

Roger Clarke


Home Reviews A-Z Reviews by affiliate