FIRST NIGHT REVIEW: Darker Shores

PUBLISHED: 11:54 10 December 2009 | UPDATED: 16:36 07 September 2010

Michael Punter's Christmas ghost story pulls off the clever trick of blending spookiness, humour, emotion and ideas. The loud bumps in the night at the remote Sea House will make you jump – as may the ghostly fa

DARKER SHORES

Hampstead Theatre

Four stars

Michael Punter's Christmas ghost story pulls off the clever trick of blending spookiness, humour, emotion and ideas.

The loud bumps in the night at the remote Sea House will make you jump - as may the ghostly face at the window, guttering candles, swaying chandeliers and levitating table.

The buttock-clenchingly upright Victorian gentleman trying to reconcile such unexplained phenomena with his religious and scientific beliefs will make you laugh.

But Punter and director Anthony Clark anchor this period spinechiller with moving back stories for all four characters which might just make you weep.

When Sea House tenant Professor Gabriel Stokes - a Darwin-rebutting 'man of science', sceptical of the supernatural - hears unexplained noises he calls in American spiritualist Tom Beauregard to investigate.

Together they uncover the tragic tale of a former owner who vanished years before.

Paul Farnsworth's fabulous black-hued gothic set of swagged drapes and heavy staircases springs some jumpy surprises, and the doom-laden atmosphere rolls in like the mist from the Sussex coast.

Top hats off to Tom Goodman-Hill who stepped in at the last minute to play Stokes with a hilarious po-faced mien that gives way to rage, tenderness and grief.

Julian Rhind-Tutt also serves well as the charismatic medium - ahem, haunted by the past, who may be partly a charlatan.

Punter tosses in some intriguing questions about reality and illusion, faith and life after death.

But although there are times when a suggestive, keep-the-audience-guessing approach would have proved more eerily effective than this rather noisy, busy spectre, Darker Shores is great fun and had us all out in the foyer afterwards swapping our own ghost stories.

Until January 16.

Bridget Galton


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