Theatre Review: Casting The Runes at Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol
This review was first written for the Public Reviews
Robert Lloyd Parry tingles the spine in a one-man retelling of two chilling tales from the pen of ghost story writer extraordinaire M R James.
Seated in a wing-backed chair with a single candle lighting the darkness and a whisky decanter beside him on a table scattered with papers, Lloyd Parry is the image of the scholarly antiquarian author who first performed the stories to amuse his Cambridge friends in the years leading up to World War One.
Without any preamble, he leaps straight into a fluent and fast-paced delivery of the first story of the evening, the eponymous Casting the Runes. The self-styled Abbot of Lufford, a certain Mr Karswell, does not take kindly to being overlooked in academic circles for his paper concerning the truth about alchemy.
When Mr Dunning, the man who rejected Karswell’s work, experiences a series of increasingly sinister events which haunt his well-being, he seeks out the brother of John Harrington, a man who died in mysterious circumstances after writing a damning review of Karswell’s book on witchcraft. But, in uncovering the supernatural secret of Harrington’s demise, the pair begin to realise the full, vengeful horror of Dunning’s own predicament.
Lloyd Parry recounts his tale as if talking to old friends in the corner of his library; his word-perfect delivery is mesmerising. It’s eerily dark and, as his story tumbles forth, there are minimal changes to the lighting and no sound other than his voice. In this simple setting, he single-handedly holds the audience’s silent and rapt attention from the start.
If Casting the Runes is known for being the story upon which the 1957 horror film Night of the Demon is based, the second story is less familiar but equally riveting. The Residence at Whitminster is a tale of a peaceful English church and community overcome with strange happenings. There is the sacrifice of a cockerel called Hannibal and a room full of sawflies no bigger than an inch long – or could one of them grow to be the size of a man?
Once again, the dark magic of M R James’ story is magnified by Lloyd Parry’s telling, the ghosts created by what isn’t said and the power of your own imagination. We are warned in advance to expect moments of “pleasing terror” and this description is very apt; on leaving the theatre, there is a feeling of having been enjoyably enthralled, but still a desire to steer clear of dark shadows.
M R James is familiar ground for Lloyd Parry; the majority of his one-man shows feature the author’s stories and tap into a gothic preoccupation with the supernatural. By the evidence of Casting the Runes, it’s a spellbinding and winning combination which is earning him a well-deserved following.