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21st November 2022 - 26th November 2022
A GRIPPING AND GHOSTLY TALE OF SUSPENSE
It’s Christmas 1875 and Professor Gabriel Stokes (Max Caulfield) takes lodgings at The Sea House cared for by Mrs Hinchcliffe (Juliet Mills), on a desolate stretch of the East Sussex coast. No sooner has he arrived than the troubled history of the house comes to the fore with unexplained and mysterious happenings. Having enlisted the help of Tom Beauregard (Michael Praed) an
American spiritualist, the two embark on a terrifying journey to discover the truth.
Following the traditions of the finest ghost stories, Darker Shores is a gripping and shadowy tale of suspense.
★★★★ ‘Playfully intelligent, emotionally resonant and scary’ Good Reads
An excellent play; it made me jump a few times! Great setting and acting but where was Michael Praed ?- no mention of him not being able to appear ??
Showtime! John Philpott
LIVING in a 24/7 world saturated with images - many of which are unpleasant – means that all of us have been desensitised to some degree.
This presents ‘old money’ media such as theatre with a major challenge. Just how can notions of fear and dread, ghostly happenings, and sinister forebodings be adequately conveyed to the modern audience?
Well, there is no doubt whatsoever that with the right team, the live stage can still steal the limelight when it comes to the edge-of-seat suspense that is so vital in portraying the paranormal.
Writer Michael Punter’s bleakly powerful words are chillingly brought to life thanks to Charlotte Peters’ taut direction and illusion consultant Darren Lang’s extraordinary visual effects.
Add to this Dominic Bilkey’s stunning, explosive sound portraits, and Philip Witcomb’s eerie set, and you can be sure that everyone’s heart is all set to palpitate the night away.
Professor Gabriel Stokes (Max Caulfield) goes into lodgings at The Sea House, a crumbling coastal pile run by the deathly Mrs Hinchcliffe (Juliet Mills). She flutters about the place dressed all in black, her gimlet mouth scarcely moving as she tends to her guests.
You can almost smell the mould and decay, such is the fetid atmosphere exuded by Witcomb’s depressingly dank set.
It’s not long before the troubled history of the house becomes apparent when a series of bangs, scraping sounds, footsteps and other mysterious manifestations start to intrude on the lives of those present.
Seaside this might be, but bucket, spade and shrimping nets it most certainly ain’t, folks.
Of course, faced with all this, most of us would rapidly get the hell out. Not so with the persistent prof, who enlists the help of American spiritualist Tom Beauregard (Will Beynon).
Every inch the Virginia gentleman, he also seems to be carrying a lot of emotional baggage from the recently ended civil war in that country.
As well as performing a party trick with an apple, Beauregard’s talents also run to summoning up the spirits of the departed. Right from the start, you just know that none of this is going to end well.
The standard poltergeist stuff – cupboards and doors opening unaided, faces appearing from nowhere, and so on – soon morphs into far more terrifying developments.
The most frightening scene features Chipo Kureya as housemaid Florence Kennedy. She appears to inhabit parallel universes, the borders of which blur with a distinctly worrying frequency.
The possession scene, involving disembodied voices, has a truly disturbing intensity, especially when the table hangs suspended in mid-air. I found this visual effect quite astonishing as my eyes searched in vain for the tell-tale fishing line.
By any stretch of the imagination, this is theatre at its most compelling, especially as these days, many people accept the existence of ghosts and their associated paranormal activity as reality.
And this is just yet another reason why one feels that this gripping Theatre Royal Windsor and Birdsong production will certainly have been preaching to a growing number of the converted.
View From the Stalls - Pete Phillips
It was a suitably cold, wet, dark night for the first night of Michael Punter's Darker Shores at Malvern Theatre. This was an atmosphere which continued on stage where the set was the somewhat intimidating interior of an old house, one of course which had history…
Ghost stories are nothing new to British audiences. Macbeth, Scrooge, Hamlet all encountered them, Noel Coward has one in Blithe Spirit, then there's The Woman in Black and Ghost Stories and today, their popularity continues unabated with the brilliant tv comedy Ghosts (which has even been adapted for American audiences).
Darker Shores takes the standard situation - a haunted house - and builds a story around how it came to be so. It is Christmas 1875 (or more accurately "Advent" as the midnight bells have not yet tolled) and the setting is Sea House, a rambling Victorian mansion on the East Sussex coast, whose owner "disappeared" leaving only the housekeeper Mrs Hinchcliffe (Juliet Mills) in charge, a Northern woman who takes no prisoners. A room is rented out to Professor Stokes (Maxwell Caulfield) who lost both his wife and son in a shipping disaster and the show starts with a conversation between him and Tom Beauregard (billed as being played by Michael Praed but, on the first night, it was the more than capable understudy Will Beynon who took the role (no explanation given). The other character is Florence Kennedy (Chipo Kureya) who helps out at the house after being taken in when she was left as a single mother with her son and no support. Stokes is a Christian natural historian (and therefore not a fan of the paranormal) and his friend Beauregard is an American spiritualist (from some dodgy-sounding church as they tend to be). The two set about trying to unravel the mystery of the smells, noises and apparitions in the house whilst Stokes is attempting to write his masterpiece in his rented room (and not enjoying kippers for breakfast!)
Needless to say, there are some clever - and startling - special effects throughout (you can always tell when these work as the audience gasps and then chuckles!) but to give more details would be to give away too much of the plot. By the end of the evening, you might just know more about the fate of the house's owner, why Mrs Hinchciffe really shouldn't turn the place into a hotel and why there footsteps of a boy in the loft…
Sue Hull - What's on Live
A thought-provoking Victorian ghost story set in a gothic seaside residence. A scary, thrilling and entertaining production that gets the audience jumping and gasping.
Like all great ghost stories, Michael Punter’s Darker Shores strikes a balance between telling a story and maintaining a sense of suspense and disbelief. Wonderful acting, impressive special effects, eerie lighting, ethereal noises and a clever use of darkness brilliantly combine to create some very frightening moments throughout the show.
Christmas in the mid-1870s. Darwin denier and natural scientist Professor Gabriel Stokes (Maxwell Caulfield) is mourning the loss of his wife and young son. He takes lodgings and hides himself away from the joy of the festive season at a cold and draughty guest house. He is distracted from writing his article debunking Darwin by a series of disturbing sounds and smells - and a ‘presence’ for which he cannot find a rational explanation.
Despite his religious beliefs preventing him from believing in the paranormal, Stokes enlists the support of American spiritualist Tom Beauregard (played here by understudy Will Beynon rather than Michael Praed). Stokes recounts the story of his stay at The Sea House and the ghostly sounds and visions that disturbed him while he was there. He revisits the lodging, with Beauregard, to attempt to understand exactly what he had experienced previously, using seances to try to connect with the dead. Matters are complicated by the housekeeper, Mrs Hinchcliffe (Maxwell Caulfield’s real-life wife, Juliet Mills), who evidently knows more than she’s letting on, and the maid, Florence Kennedy (Chipo Kureya).
Stokes quite rightly challenges Beauregard’s psychic abilities, and Beauregard quickly discovers he has taken on more of a spiritual challenge than he had bargained for. It transpires that the maid has a genuine talent for second sight, and all four characters are haunted by the regret of past tragedies. As the second act concludes, secrets are divulged, truths told, and all manner of goings-on reveal themselves.
Courie Amado Juneau - FAIRY POWERED PRODUCTIONS
Christmas is looming, so how fitting to indulge in a Gothic ghost story. And from the pen of writer Michael Punter we have one set at Christmas too!
Even before the actors appeared, the sound of lapping waves and wind were setting the scene. With a sumptuous set, from Set and Costume Designer Philip Witcomb, dripping with menace from every corner and gorgeous costumes, the full effect was to transport us straight into 1876.
All the cast had their moments to shine through some very interesting character studies. Each brings there share of mystery and much baggage. The play is a roller coaster of emotions from light to dark, mirth through terror. The trouble (for this reviewer) is that it is difficult to actually highlight any scenes the actors stood out in without providing unintentional spoilers. And they did stand out; it is a sensational cast. But in general terms it was amazing to see a couple of genuine Hollywood and television legends sharing the stage with a couple of the younger generation brimming over with talent in abundance.
Maxwell Caulfield gave us Professor Gabriel Stokes, embodying the gravitas such a character deserves and yet with a vulnerability within his loss that was perfectly pitched for the era. Juliet Mills was a pure joy as Mrs Hinchcliffe with a lovely restrained air, befitting her character, bubbling over into emotion only when fearful or offended. Both shone like the stars they have always been.
Chipo Kureya (playing Florence Kennedy) was a revelation, especially towards the climax of the play where her acting was simply thrilling. She is a talent to watch for the future in what will undoubtedly be an illustrious career. Last, but certainly not least, was Will Beynon as Dr Beauregard, who produced a stunning performance of great emotional range; made even more impressive given that he is the tour’s understudy. Another actor with a bright future. Much was done with suggestion and brief glimpses caught in the shadows. Was it my imagination or was that picture shifting? Or was it just a trick of the very inventive lighting from Lighting Designer Nick Richings, truly enhancing the action and atmosphere.
I really enjoyed the way the acting was somewhat underplayed, letting us use our imagination, creating a satisfying crescendo to the final climactic scenes which positively bristled with excitement. The sound effects provided by Dominic Bilkey and special effects (I’m guessing from Illusion Consultant – a fantastic job title if ever I heard one! – Darren Lang) gave us some heart in mouth moments too, propelling the action along nicely. If you were to ask me to sum up this work in one word I would say “jumpy” and we loved every leap from our seat.
An intriguing story, some life affirming scares to get the heart racing, a genuinely starry cast of established and new talent all wrapped up in Hollywood grade packaging. A thoroughly enjoyable night out at the theatre which I recommend heartily to everyone.
Something's going bump in the night at Malvern Theatres this week. Eerie shadows in the window, dark shapes emerging from paintings and a seance with a difference.
It's all part of the ghostly Victorian tale of Darker Shores that stops off at the Worcestershire venue during its UK tour from Monday November 21 to Saturday November 26.
In a similar vein to The Woman in Black recent touring production, it's a small cast taking us through the narrative. This doesn't have as much frantic action as that but it does have some high calibre names on stage.
Juliet Mills of the renowned Mills acting family and her real-life husband, Dynasty star Maxwell Caulfield, command attention and reflect decades in the acting game with natural charisma on stage.
Michael Praed, once known as Robin of Sherwood, should have been there too but was disappointingly absent on first night (but due back for the rest of the week).
Instead his slightly nervy-looking understudy Will Beynon took over as Tom Beauregard, a psychic from America's Deep South who seems like he's hiding too many secrets under that hospitable southern drawl.
His latest client is Caulfield's Professor Stokes. A pious yet plucky ageing widower whose been shaken by a supernatural experience at strange Sea House. He wants to return with Beauregard to get to the bottom of it all.
It's Christmas 1875 and Sea House's straight-talking owner Mrs Hinchcliffe, played by Mills with a delightful northern accent, is acting suspiciously between creepy moments of low level special effects.
Adding to the mystery is maid Florence Kennedy, who seems able to connect with the spiritual world. Chipo Kureya as Florence holds her own amongst an experienced cast and her energy brightens up the show, which does stutter in its pace from time to time.
This Theatre Royal Windsor and Birdsong production is blessed however with a luxurious set and glorious lighting to create a suitably tense atmosphere.
The play comes into its own during the final 20 minutes or so when the tempo lifts and it proves far more unpredictable than many routine thrillers. Although the final scene is confusing and I'm still wondering what it was supposed to mean.
That said, Darker Shores is a likeable gentle mystery with some clever unexpected twists and fine acting.
A suitably dark mysterious house called SEA HOUSE nestled on a desolate stretch of the Sussex coast - A knock at the door sees an American gentleman, professor Gabriel Stokes who had booked lodgings in the house - once settled in he learns that the house has a troubled history, it then becomes apparent he will need help in uncovering unexplained happenings from the past. He enlists the help of Tom Beauregard, an American Spiritualist - and together they set about uncovering the dark and troubled history of SEA HOUSE. They begin to unravel the history of the house - and here starts a terrifying journey to find the truth about the happenings at SEA HOUSE - this is just the beginning of their journey into ghostly happenings - prepare to be afraid!!!
Some fine performances from Maxwell Caulfield, and also Juliet Mills as the housekeeper Mrs Hinchcliffe and excellent performance from Chipo Kureya as Florence Kennedy