The Small Hand
Susan Hill, adapted for the stage by Clive Francis
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford
Sound and lighting (Dan Samson and Nick Richings) have been having a field day with this production, throwing everything they know at the stage to evoke a ghostly atmosphere and bring a chill of impending doom to the audience from the very beginning.
Thunderclaps almost shake the theatre, mists swirl and ear-piercing screams are heard before the narrators even begin the story.
There are only three in the cast: Andrew Lancel, who is living the part of art dealer Adam Snow, while narrators 1 and 2, Robert Duncan and Diane Keen, play numerous characters between them as the story unfolds.
The Narrators begin but, as in the hugely successful Woman in Black by the same author (25 years in the West End so far), Adam takes up the story himself and tells of his experiences when on on his way to visit a client.
On a stormy night, he takes a wrong turning, narrowly avoids hitting a small boy in the road in front of him (a boy who then vanishes) and then finds himself at a derelict abandoned house: The White House. Eerily, a long-dead estate agent had already sent him details of this house as if it is for sale.
Here, while wandering around the neglected garden, he feels a small hand slipped into his as if a child has grasped it—no child is present. This episode is first dismissed as imagination, but the hand ‘appears’ again and again, each time seeming to be leading him towards danger, mostly to do with water.
The happenings cause Adam to have strange nightmares, panic attacks and generally lose control and feel that he must be going mad, finally talking it over with his headmaster brother who had similar problems in the past. Things his brother wanted to forget are now brought back to him with tragic consequences.
As a dealer in art (antique books and manuscripts in the book), Adam has to do some travelling and this involves multiple venues each, within a versatile framework, being depicted with some very effective video projections.
We slip effortlessly from the White House Garden (as it used to be) to the home of some aristocratic and amusing friends, a police station (not sure how they got involved) and a train journey to a stately home in Edinburgh where the owner is delighted that his rare Rosetti painting will sell for several million. It is another painting which takes Adam’s attention, though, and that mysterious boy seems to have a ‘hand’ in it.
Performances are first-rate—emotionally draining and dramatic from Lancel and versatile from the Narrators.
Director Roy Marsden keep the narrative moving at a steady pace, but while this doesn’t have the same impact as Woman in Black (nobody in the audience screamed) it does keep you involved right to the end, although the denouement is a little disappointing and leaves some questions I still haven’t fathomed out.
Perhaps that’s not a bad thing—keeps you thinking about it.
Reviewer: Sheila Connor