Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Hush Little Baby

C R McDonald
Through The Window Theatre
Canal Café Theatre
(2009)

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This young company invite their audience to “Come by. Enjoy a drink. Stay a while” at The Wolf’s Arms. Unfortunately, there is not enough blood and bite in this new piece to demand more than a brief visit.

The charming cabaret space is beguiling; the menu/programmes on the tables (on which every course is veal) providing amusement as the audience seat themselves at the almost-full tables.

The action starts in a remote inn in the Fens of East Anglia, the home of the Ghastendoome family. When Stella Bright arrives, in trousers and a hoodie, it becomes apparent that we are in the present day, even if the Arms' inmates, in 1920s garb and attitudes, are not. A dress-suited Cousin Johnny leans, louche, against the wall; tweedy, youth-obsessed Lady Ghastendoome holds court from her wheelchair; and public-school-camp George (Alexander Gatehouse) comes in and out of a large cupboard. This in-the-closet conceit raises several laughs from the audience.

Stella has arrived to collect her artist husband Ralph, who has been painting the portrait of slender, blonde Natasha Ghastendoome (an expressive Katie Costick). Several allusions to the full moon, hunting, and the dangers of “them out there” are made as they deliberately stall Stella. It soon becomes apparent that Toby W. Davies’ suave Cousin Johnny is chained to the wall.

The chemistry between Davies and Costick is a highlight; there is a real pull of attraction between them and he exudes enough danger to make his confinement just about believable .This sinister build-up never quite reaches a satisfying conclusion, though. Whilst there are hints he is responsible for girls being ripped apart on the fens, the idea of whether the monsters are “out there” or within is not fully explored or explained.

Tom Mc Donald’s Ralph’s motives are also frustratingly opaque; his and Stella’s recent, shared trauma is not given enough depth to explain his indoctrinated embracing of the Ghastendoomes, and his weird betrayal of his wife.

George delivers his funny lines beautifully - particularly his over the top exclamations:“Jesus, toast and crumpets!” - and there is wickedly black humour; on rising from her wheelchair Lady Vera Glastendoome superbly announces, “The one thing I am not is a fraud.”

Director Louise Hill makes inventive use of the tiny space, and the set and costumes are well designed and evocative. Natasha’s Little Red Riding Hood cloak is a nice touch.

Through The Window Theatre formed at the Edinburgh Fringe and it is easy to imagine this hour-long piece of new writing at the Festival. However, there are jumps in the plot. In particular it seems an imaginative leap too far that Annemarie Gaillard’s feisty, forthright Stella would sink so suddenly into an insane, broken torpor - and that she wouldn’t come to her senses in the light of day.

With some funny lines and decent acting, Hush Little Baby makes for an amusing and entertaining hour, but lacks the power to grab its audience by the throat.

Reviewer: Beth O'Brien