"Seven for a terrible secret"
by Avril Silk for remotegoat on 14/11/18

‘One for Sorrow’ by Substance and Shadow Theatre is a beautifully researched melodrama digging deep into Exeter’s history and that of the Flay family, prosperous courtesy of the lucrative woollen trade. A wedding-night game of hide-and-seek goes horribly wrong and our journey of discovery reveals more than just the fate of a reluctant bride. In the stunning setting of Exeter’s Tuckers Hall we learn about the power and protection of the Guilds; the glorious Glass Armonica, invented by Benjamin Franklin, with its haunting, delicate sound rumoured to send listeners mad and reveal hidden, supernatural secrets; a dark world of superstition and rural magic as well the treatment of perceived mental illness. Such concise story telling, delivered in just under an hour, left me wanting more. ‘One for Sorrow’ is the perfect length for a festival but in other settings would work well with a curtain raiser or companion piece.

The cast gave satisfying, well rounded performances. Richard Pulman’s distraught bridegroom, Thomas, worked very well with Midge Mullin’s sensitive and troubled brother Ignatius as the truth about Martha’s fate was uncovered. Fern Stone, in a dead woman’s wedding dress, conveyed well the cold dread of the prospect of a loveless marriage, as well as singing beautifully. The Beadle, Jeremiah Nethercott, played by Nathan Simpson, narrated the story, linking the scenes effectively and underpinning the brooding atmosphere so well served by the setting, lighting, music and costumes.

This production looked and sounded very good indeed – from flickering candlelight illuminating the faces of the performers, to chilling, tantalising snatches of song and the ethereal music of the Glass Armonica. Director Rosie Mullin (who wrote the tightly scripted play with Midge Mullin) has a strong creative team doing justice to ‘One for Sorrow’. Lizz Gaskill’s props and costumes, with Charlotte Hogg, were pleasingly authentic. Lizz even had a walk-on part as Bessie Doddiswell. Samantha Taylor and Alex White worked with sound to enhance the immersive nature of this intimate event.

The first performance had some blips… anything which interrupts the intense concentration needed for such a tightly constructed story risks diminishing its emotional impact. The opening projection was very wobbly, and unfortunately a whopping great chandelier obscured my view of the others. A late comer was seated in a position where his face was illuminated to the point whereby I thought he was another performer. Some sound effects ended abruptly instead of fading. As a short person I am a fan of rostra as I struggle to see when the action takes place on the floor. As the run continues at Tuckers Hall and then St Nicholas Priory, I am confident that, where possible, the blips will be addressed.

This evocative, atmospheric production, reminiscent of a Victorian Magic Lantern show, will stay in my memory. Substance and Shadow Theatre’s well-crafted work intrigues, entertains and informs the audience. I hope schools and colleges will snap up the chance to enjoy a chilling slice of Exeter’s history.

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