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REVIEW: Darker Shores at Cambridge Arts Theatre

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Review by Angela Singer

This play is a Victorian melodrama and a perfect show for Hallowe’en. The atmosphere is tense, and the sound effects are scary.

You know there is going to be another screechy, thundery bang but you are never sure when.

Darker Shores has been adapted from his book by Michael Punter, a former teacher in further education who noted that his students loved horror – and particularly The Woman in Black.

He says: “Like all great ghost stories it mixes telling and showing in a way that’s truly gripping.” He also notes that after the death of Prince Albert in 1861, the entire nation shared Queen Victoria’s preoccupation with mourning. That extended to spiritualism and a belief in ghosts.

His own play is in that genre. A gloomy set by Philip Witcomb, who also designed the sombre costumes – and magnificent sound effects by Dominic Bilkey, head of sound and video at the National Theatre, provide a spooky atmosphere.

The story, set in 1875, unfolds as an English academic, Professor Gabriel Stokes – a fellow of King’s College Cambridge, – seeks to unravel mysterious goings on at a house he knows in Hastings.

He seeks out an American medium, Tom Beauregard, played smoothly by Michael Praed.

Darker Shores has been adapted from his book by Michael Punter, a former teacher in further education who noted that his students loved horror – and particularly The Woman in Black.

The formal Professor Stokes, played by Maxwell Caulfield, is a down to earth enough fellow – and a staunch Darwin doubter. “If we are descended from chimpanzees,” he says, “how come by now a chimpanzee hasn’t actually given birth to a human?”

By contrast, the laid-back Beauregard has seen service in the American Civil War and is prepared to believe in the supernatural – or to make a living out of it anyway.

Meanwhile, Juliet Mills plays the haunted villa’s housekeeper, Mrs Hinchcliffe who clearly knows more than she is saying.

The foil to the tainted three is wholesome housemaid Florence Kennedy played by Chipo Kureya, who is the only character not pre-occupied by the afterlife.

She has a five-year-old which is enough to keep anyone grounded. “Curiouser and Curiouser” she says jauntily as things fall off shelves.

Darker Shores has been adapted from his book by Michael Punter, a former teacher in further education who noted that his students loved horror – and particularly The Woman in Black.

“What’s that?” ask Stokes and Beauregard. It is from a book about a girl who is lost, she replies. “I read it to my little boy every night. Mr Carroll is so clever.”

Tightly directed by Charlotte Peters, the play is well-paced, haunting night out.

Darker Shores is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, November 5.

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