"Focused, engaging, more fear please!"
by May Davey for remotegoat on 15/09/14

I’m really no specialist, where supernatural and horror genres are concerned. I can count on the fingers of one hand the spine-chillers I’ve seen on stage and on even fewer fingers the ones I’ve found genuinely creepy. Some long-running, big name chillers raise neither my curiosity nor the hairs on the back of my neck. Arriving then for ‘Warnings to the Curious’ I wondered how this one-man show would compare with those plays: would Don’t Go Into The Cellar! Theatre Company chill me properly to the bone – or leave me lukewarm?

The production is neatly conceived. Eerie tales, written by academic and author Montague Rhodes James in the late Victorian/Edwardian era, are loosely linked together to occupy 90 minutes in the company of the writer himself. As our host, Monty establishes rapport with us, his audience, and revels in the opportunity for recounting his stories.

Any one-man show is demanding of the performer and this one’s not just densely packed with words but also couched in the unfamiliar idiom of a century or more ago. Jonathan Goodwin is to be congratulated for handling deftly the style of language and turns of phrase that characterise both the era and the genre. Goodwin is particularly effective when inhabiting the person of Monty as host, when he's not bound by a particular narrative but is free to improvise in response to the audience and environment.

However when it comes to telling (and enacting) the ghost stories themselves a balance needs to be struck between keeping up the pace – so that a twisting tale doesn’t lose members of the audience along the way – and the requirement to create and sustain atmosphere and – crucially - build tension. I felt more attention could be paid to the latter. Good use is made of Technical Director Gary Archer’s sound effects, but I felt some lighting changes were less well judged. The set evokes Monty’s Edwardian university room, complete with an eclectic mix of macabre oddities.

This was a well focused, engaging and entertaining performance with some great moments of improvisation. Not overly spine-chilling for me, though a moment near the end of the show deserves mention. A short and simple story concerning the theatre building itself, and events in the part of town it occupies, created the most breathless listening and the sharpest frisson of the night. Seems the most terrifying ghosts are still the ones that come closest.

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