Palace Theatre, Watford
Opened 2 February, 1999

Jonathan Holloway of Red Shift Theatre Company enjoys making audiences shiver now and again, but does not always have the chance to indulge his spine-tingling proclivities in his novel adaptations for the company. This double-bill provides him with the chance not only to adapt W.W. Jacobs's story The Monkey's Paw but to offer up a tale of his own, entitled simply The Dark, which if anything is rather more lingeringly disturbing.

Holloway's script is perfectly matched by Giles Croft's direction: no reliance on absurd melodramatics (although, as it happens, 'tis a dark and stormy night in each story) or special effects (nothing odder than a video screen of a roaring fire where we expect a grate to be in the second tale): this is a production which places its trust in the unfolding of stories sympathetically performed for its unsettling effect, and thereby achieves all it sets out to do. The Monkey's Paw, a "be careful what you wish for" tale, is discreetly relocated to the 1940s; The Dark, an intricately patterned story of inadvertent Mephistophelean pacts, is set in the present day. Philip Bretherton doubles skilfully as a too-loving father ensnared in the web of wishes and an infernal Cambridge don (an even more diabolical Eric Griffiths figure) who collects proteges in more ways than one; Darren Tunstall comes into his own in The Dark as Bretherton's latest victim, who grasps dimly and too late what has happened to him. The evening does not pretend to be much more than hokum, but it is nevertheless highly superior hokum.

Written for The Stage.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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