OK, I have to start by declaring an interest here. I have recently been appointed as a Director of The Lyceum, which is a huge honour for me and something that I suspect would have found favour with the old man. With this comes the privelege of attending all of the press nights which means a couple of tickets, a glass or three of wine and the best seats in the house. Row A of the Grand Circle to be precise.
It does also, of course, run the risk of watching shows that I don’t actually enjoy.
Mary Rose is a ghost story, set over a twenty five year period between the wars and written by Peter Pan creator, JM Barrie. It’s rumoured to be Alfred Hitchcock’s favourite play and one can certainly see why in that it plays with suspense in much the way Hitch did. Hitch claimed that his secret was in winding an audience up through suspense for 15 minutes at a time reasoning that this was more effective than short sharp shocks and this production unquestionably achieves that. For a ghost story there are precious few shocks in it but it’s psychologically chilling (in the same way as The Others – one of my favourite ever horror movies.)
It’s very rarely performed, but did hit London in 1972 with Mia Farrow in the lead and eponymous role. Kim Gerard had the job to do tonight, heading up a very strong cast with stand out performances by Michael Mackenzie, Perri Snowdon and John Ramage.
It’s very much a period piece with the language very evocative of a bygone, highly mannered, era, but it cracks along with no shortage of humour which certainly had the audience tittering.
At its heart it’s a really spooky tale, not unlike Peter Pan in that it deals with the process of ageing in a quite unique way. (Funnily enough, so did Something Wicked…). It deals principally with loss, love and change.
The production is superbly eerie with great use of sound design, set flying and lighting and Tony Cownie’s brilliant direction succeeds in creating a mood of unearthliness. As several of the audience commented to me at the interval, the good thing about this play is that nobody knows it and you simply do not know what’s going to happen next, or how the tale will unravel, so I’ll not say too much for fear of spoiling it for you.
Overall, this is what theatre is all about; involving, engrossing, funny and, unusually, spooky. I’d strongly recommend it.
My biggest surprise of the night was Una McLean’s delightful cameo role as the Caretaker. Una won’t remember me but I worked with her at The MacRobert Centre in 1983 (or so) on Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. She was great fun and one of my fondest memories of the theatre was the night we mooned each other in the wings.
Lordy, lordy. Good old Una.