The Mist in the Mirror

Based on the book by Susan Hill, adapted for the stage by Ian Kershaw
Oldham Coliseum Theatre and Imitating the Dog
Oldham Coliseum Theatre

Jack Lord as Reader and Paul Warriner as James Monmouth Credit: Joel C Fildes
Paul Warriner as James Monmouth and Caroline Harding as Lady Viola Quincebridge Credit: Joel C Fildes

Since The Woman In Black has been breaking records on the West End and on tour for more than a quarter of a century, a new stage adaptation of a Susan Hill novel is bound to attract some attention.

This new adaptation is by local writer Ian Kershaw and directed by Coliseum artistic director Kevin Shaw, but the co-production with Imitating the Dog has brought lots of clever projected scenery effects into the mix.

The story is set in the nineteenth century and digs up a lot of the tropes of ghost stories of that period, beginning with a discovered account of some supposedly true ghostly events, which he reads out for the benefit of the audience.

In flashback, we follow James Monmouth's research trip to discover the history of adventurer and travel writer Conrad Vane. However everyone he asks tries to dissuade him from pursuing his quest as there was something "evil" about Vane that appears to hang around even after his death. To top it all, Monmouth is being followed by the ghostly figure of a child.

On the plus side, the projections are extremely impressive, creating whole, animated scenes with wonderful attention to detail. For instance, when Monmouth walks around the library with a lamp, the books on the wall show up in a moving circle of light perfectly synchronised with the actor. There are some lovely window and train effects, all married up perfectly with atmospheric sound and music.

Outside of Imitating the Dog's department, things aren't quite so rosy. The script is long and dreary with very little story to follow and loads of ghost story clichés. Some scenes look as though they are only there to set up for an ineffective scare of the ghost suddenly appearing through the smoke machine fog. The mirror of the title hardly features at all and doesn't have a great deal to do with the story.

The cast can't be blamed for any of this as they work hard to create a large cast of characters between five of them. Jack Lord is the person reading the story, who keeps being revealed from behind a sliding panel to add another few pages of narration. Paul Warriner is Monmouth, the gung-ho researcher who will not be deterred by ghost stories. Other characters are played by Sarah Eve, Caroline Harding and Martin Reeve.

I don't know what the original novel is like, but this adaptation has as little substance as the spirits it conjures up. It certainly isn't scary—although it may make you jump a couple of times—and isn't even bad enough to be funny, as some failed ghost stories are. It's all just rather dull.

Visually, it is lovely to look at and at times stunningly imaginative, but this in itself isn't enough to save a poor script.

Reviewer: David Chadderton