Despite the spooky name, The Ghosts of Barucone Manor is not a scary play – nor is it meant to be. The formula for a haunting drama is all there: a guest at an old, mysterious house, spooky twins, a gradual descent into madness – and, of course, ghosts. However, this piece of new writing by Elliot Keren parodies the conventional ghost story by playfully juxtaposing comedy with grotesquery. It tells the amusing story of the residents (both human and phantom) of Barucone Manor as they entertain and terrify their disorientated guest, Ruben.
The household is made up of forceful, eccentric characters: the two mischievous and outrageously flirtatious twins, Flick and Lissa, the perpetually livid housekeeper Baxby, the elderly Lady Barucone who talks to her dead husband Albert (of whom we see and hear nothing), and the polished Butler whose job it is to keep the peace. What appeared eerie initially becomes even more eerie as the house’s secrets are revealed. A series of uncanny discoveries pushes Ruben to the brink and he starts to become paranoid about the strangeness of the house. This downward spiral results in disaster for Ruben, and an inauspicious future for the Manor’s next guest, Benjamin.
There is a playful juxtaposition throughout of comedy with graphic, horror-story imagery: at one point Lissa Roland, one of the twins, tells the already disconcerted Ruben about the unfortunate fate of one of the previous tenants, whose “blood was on the floor for weeks” – a line which is delivered with a sweet smile from the girl. Unfortunately the preview lacked props and costumes, but we are promised a 1920s setting. Izzy Renton and Emma Turnbull do good jobs as the forthright Woland twins, and Will Law is impressive as a suave Butler, trying (but miserably failing) to prevent the troublesome duo from misbehaving.
Amongst the usual gothic tropes there are some unexpected moves. “Ssshhh!!! Your uncle is talking!” cries Lady Barucone indignantly at one point to her bewildered nephew, Ruben. The uncle in question is not a human being, but an empty space on the left hand of the stage (that is, the ghost of the Lady’s late husband, Albert). Thankfully, we were assured beforehand that there is no shortage of actors for The Ghosts of Barucone Manor. The world this production promises is one in which the rights of ghosts to polite treatment are heeded – even if we can’t see or hear them.
The show promises to be good fun, but those who like their ghost stories bloodcurdlingly frightening should steer well clear.
The Ghosts of Barucone Manor is being performed at the Burton Taylor Studio from Tuesday 29th October to Saturday 2nd November. Tickets £6/5 and available here.
PHOTO/ Osvát András