Monday, 18 October 2010

House of Ghosts an Inspector Morse Mystery starring Colin Baker

Colin Dexter's Morse In
House Of Ghosts
An Original Stage Play by Alma Cullen
Devonshire Park Theatre
18-23 October 2010
Performance seen 18th October

(Programme listed order)
Morse : Colin Baker
Lawrence Baxter : David Acton
Lewis : Andrew Bone
Paul Kincaid : Paul Clarkson
Ellen Underwood : Lynette Edwards
Justin Harris : Gregory Finnegan
Philip Woolf : John Fleming
Harriet Baxter : Caroline Harding
Freddie Malveno : Christopher Heyward
Rebecca Downey : Rachel Logan
Grace Friel : Judith Rae
Verity Carr : Gay Soper
Strange : Glynn Sweet
Ruth Johnson : Nicole Ashwood
Daniel Granger : Richard Stirling

For anybody who takes reviews as a definitive indicator as to whether a particular production is any good (which would probably be a daft thing to do anyway as tastes differ) please take this write-up and overall verdict with a massive pinch of salt.

I was never a fan of the TV series Morse, I was never a great admirer of the work of the late John Thaw, apart from the comedy Home To Roost and to be honest I don't even recall ever watching a single full episode of Morse on the TV.

I do, however, like good theatre murder mysteries hence this particular production still appealed.

Whilst I wasn't a great fan of John thaw I do greatly admire Colin Baker who takes on the role of the Chief Inspector in this particular creation. Having met Colin a few times now he always comes across as one of the true 'gentleman actors'. Extremely experienced, well travelled (even in the Tardis!), highly qualified, very professional, truly dedicated to the acting profession and very friendly with no massive ego, a trait so often seen in some well known stars. He is also a genuine theatre stalwart willing to promote theatres and theatre going in his own time as well as as helping to raise funds for acting charities.

Colin Baker as Inspector Morse House Of GhostsI won't make a direct comparison to the TV Morse as not having seen much of it there's little point. However I doubt if Colin set out to be a John Thaw impersonator here. Baker would have wanted to make the role his own and to be judged as to how he portrays the methodical, unhurried Chief Inspector.

I thought this was a very well cast role. Colin Baker makes for a very believable member of Thames Valley CID as does Glynn Sweet as his Superintendent and Andrew Bone as his sidekick, DS Lewis.

With a cast of 15 this is one of the largest touring companies seen at the Devonshire Park Theatre in 2010 and it was great that such a large cast got rewarded with a sizable audience on this opening night.

Acting wise it appeared faultless and every single actor was believable in their particular role. From Rachel Sweet whose appearance is short lived (literally) to Gregory Finnegan as a very impressive still-in-the-closet, dope taking, thespian everybody gives the performance 100% commitment.

Brilliant acting all round in fact.

On the down side I thought at over 2 hours (not even including the interval) this script is more than a tad too long.

I always think that most enthralling movies are 90-100 minutes long for a reason. Because that is a time span which can hold most peoples attention throughout. As long as you have a good story viewers will normally stick with it for that length of time. Let's be honest too, although the TV Morse episodes were 2 hours each that included commercials - the actual run time for the action was 100 minutes. So why so long for the stage version?

The story is actually very well thought out in House Of Ghosts. The murder setting is, very appropriately, a theatre so the action can both kick off and continue using both the stage and the auditorium. It was quite funny to hear some friends of ours wondered what the hell was going on when some mad Irish woman (Judith Rae) burst into life screaming out a few seats in front of them.

The 'Ghosts' are Morse's ghosts from the past. Those who he studied with, those who he lost out to in love, those he liked, those he loathed. Conveniently they are all reunited in this play and grudges from the past play a big part throughout the murder (or suicide?) investigation.

There is a little occasional humour to lighten the tension. There was a reference to sexual activity amongst touring theatre companies (I think by David Acton who played the superb theatre director and Richard Branson lookalike,  David Lawrence) that in every touring cast somebody is always 'rutting' somebody else. I've since studied the programme for House of Ghosts intently and tried to play the matchmaking game but failed miserably. If the 'rutting mystery' is to be solved for this cast then one of the cast will need to email me the sordid details to put us all out of our misery.

Set wise it's kept simple. A 'wooden' backdrop which serves for all locations stage, church, pub, stage door
and anywhere else I've missed. Chairs, tables and similar props are the only objects indicating the change of place.

This is OK and at least it keeps the production budget down. It certainly works for the church and stage to keep this set. However as our friends rightly pointed out it does, sometimes, help you to follow a long story easier if there is a little variety in the set. Perhaps 'set monotony' also makes this production seem longer than it should be?

One minor 'prop point' that the cast may wish to pick up on regards the envelope at the end of the performance, held by Morse. This is meant to contain a letter yet standing in front of the desk with the light behind him the audience can quite clearly see the envelope is empty. Although it is trivial it's all about making a story believable. Please consider investing in a folded sheet of A4 so the envelope doesn't appear transparent.

The characters are all interesting individuals and the story itself is enthralling, especially when you throw into the mix Morse's background which comes to light, but at times both myself and others found it a little difficult to keep up with all developments.

I have a rubbish short term memory anyway which doesn't help when a show throws in so many different facts to keep up with but several others mentioned they found the story 'over complicated' and 'difficult to follow' too.

Like any murder mystery there are so many twists and turns but this play in particular needs undivided attention to keep up with who did what, who slept with who, what happened in the past and in the present.

Myself, I thoroughly enjoyed it, I thought it was an incredibly well acted play. But I do think the same story could have been told just as effectively in slightly less time. This is not down to the actors but the original script.

Now this is why I said take the following rating with a pinch of salt. Devout Morse fans, I have little doubt, would probably award the extra star. From many comments picked up after this I expect some would deduct a star to give a still 'good show' 3/5 rating. There may also be others like my wife who loved the cast and thought the acting was great but the story itself really wasn't her cup of tea.

My overall verdict is that House Of Ghosts is well worth seeing but be aware from the outset that it is a long show and pay close attention to everything that goes on. If you go with this in mind I think you'll enjoy some of the finest acting seen on the stage in 2010.

Recommended viewing you can book here for Eastbourne
4/5 for House of Ghosts with Colin Baker

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