Tuesday, 14 June 2011

The Ghost and Mrs Muir, Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne 14th-18th June 2011



The Ghost and Mrs Muir, 
Devonshire Park Theatre, 
Eastbourne 
14th-18th June 2011 

Show seen 14th June

Cast
Lucy Muir - Anna Brecon
Miles Fairley - Marcus Hutton
Daniel Gregg - George Telfer
Martha/Eva - Julia Binns
Mr Coombe/Pawnbroker/Cyril - Ben Roddy

The year is 1900. Lucy Muir, a strong willed widow, is determined to live in the haunted Gull Cottage. The ghost is that of the former property owner Captain Daniel Gregg . He refuses to leave the house he is so proud of and which he built with his own hands.

Unlike previous occupants, Lucy is not frightened by grumpy Gregg and in due course they become close. But what will happen when a handsome, charming and living man appears on the scene? Will she fall for the dashing gentleman or will she have the strength to resist?

So is this a chiller of a spooky ghost story ? No not at all. If it fits any genre it's that of a romantic comedy.

An original story by R A Dick (pen name of Josephine Leslie) the original 1947 movie starred Gene Tierney (Lucy) Rex Harrison (Daniel Gregg) and  George Sanders (Miles Fairley).

This version is directed and was adapted for the stage by Patric Kearns.

A fabulous job Karns has done as I thought this to be a brilliant production from curtain up to the very end.

Perhaps I am just getting old but I thought the story was sentimentally charming. Yes it is like so many 'romcoms' in that the ending is somewhat predictable. However, getting to that finale is a total pleasure.

Anna Brecon is probably best known for her long stint in Emmerdale playing "posh totty" Lady Tara  Oakwell/Thornfield (nee Cockburn). Now I'm not a huge TV watcher but, for me, Anna was one very good reason to watch the soap. Yes, as a bloke, I admit she is very easy on the eye (actor Stephen Beckett has a lovely, friendly wife) but for me Anna was always so effective in the role bringing a believable "Tamara Beckwith" like "IT Girl" character into the rural village setting.

I have waited some 9 years or so to appreciate this actress live and it was fully worth the long wait. It is Lucy Muir that graces the stage first and I can think of nobody else who could have played this not-so-grieving widow better. In fact Lucy's determination to live in the haunted property is not unlike the ruthless 'Lady Tara'. She was used to getting her own way too!

Marcus Hutton who plays Lucy's tempting love interest, Miles Fairley, is known to TV viewers for numerous roles including parts in Doctor Who, Love Hurts and Lovejoy. But he will be recognized most often for his portrayal of Nathan Cuddington in Brookside.

Although he took a break from acting (theatre and TV) from 2002-2007 he continued his 'second career' as an established and respected voice over artist.

Hutton's time on stage as smarmy charmer Miles Fairley is nowhere near as long as Anna's and George Telfer's. But he's a gem to watch for the time he does appear as he tries to impress Lucy Muir with his suave manner, slicked back hair ,pass the sick bucket inducing chat-up lines and some controversial suggestions on how he can make their life together perfect.

The other main role, the ghost of Captain Daniel Gregg ,is played by George Telfer.

George who? Well George may not be the household name that the previously mentioned artists are but he equals them in theatrical talent. Most of his time on stage he is, understandably, accompanied by Anna Brecon. It's a pairing that works so well and you can truly believe how Mrs Muir would be impressed by the headstrong, eloquent, handsome naval man even if he is, literally,  just there in spirit. I loved George's portrayal of the ghost and his delivery of the mammoth script that goes along with it!

Actress Julia Binns takes on two roles. Firstly that of Martha, Lucy's very loyal housekeeper. Martha always has her employer's well being at the forefront of her mind. In total contrast she also plays Lucy's obnoxious domineering, patronising, interfering sister-in-law Eva. She tries to control Mrs Muir's life because it's apparently what her late husband would have wanted.

Last, but definitely not least, is Ben Roddy. Ben is no stranger to the Devonshire Park Theatre. In fact he appeared at the venue only 7 months ago (November 2010) in the excellent comedy Don't Dress For Dinner.

Like Julia, Ben also undertakes multiple roles. There's Mr Coombe the estate agent who does his hapless best to try to persuade Lucy Muir why she doesn't want Gull Cottage and should look elsewhere for a property.

He's also a less than generous pawnbroker and also a man of the cloth in the shape of Cyril, Lucy's son.

Ben and Julia, our multi-taskers, complete this impressive cast of five.

Whilst I'd love to find fault with something I can't. The single location set - the lounge of  Gull Cottage works perfectly. On the odd occasion a scene takes place elsewhere it is performed on the 'apron'. Being short scenes this works well. Besides, I think the quality of the acting is such that you are more engrossed in the characters and the story than the set.

I thought that there was just enough humour to give that romantic comedy feeling without it masking the fine dialogues and emotions delivered by the cast. Director Kearns even has an almost constant musical underscore playing throughout the production. Now I'm not normally one to get sentimental about things like this but this musical score fits both the haunting and romantic aspects of the play perfectly.

I will mention that somebody in the grand circle said some of the dialogue was a little difficult to hear over the music.From the stalls I had no such issue but should somebody from the production team see this they may wish to check this out.

This is one of a minority of plays I could quite easily have watched again in the same week I thought it was a beautifully presented production and deserves to be appreciated.

If you can catch this before it leaves Eastbourne I think it's well worth a visit. Otherwise try to catch The Ghost and Mrs Muir if it's in a town near you.

See and enjoy!

The Ghost and Mrs Muir Cast 2011
From back left (lady partly hidden unknown)
Patric Kearns (director)
Marcus Hutton (left) and Ben Roddy
Front row from left Julia Binns, Anna Brecon, George Telfer

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