Anthony Weigh reimagining of Wilde’s short story focuses more on humour and does away with most of the darkly gothic horror from Oscar Wilde’s tale by diluting the darkly morbid parts of the story through clever use of contemporary language and imagery.
The plot is fairly straightforward and focuses on the US diplomatic Otis family whose next posting is in England. Mr Otis, his interior designer wife, their inventor son Washington and teenage daughter Virginia and of course the very funny twins Stars and Stripes. The family takes residence in a creaky old haunted mansion, abandoned by all the servants other than the dour Scottish housekeeper and the ghost, a rather tired and tormented Sir Simon Canterville.
The phantasmagorical knight does his best to spook the intruders from his ancestral home through various forms and apparitions but his ghostly characters don’t seem to inspire fear for this rational modern American family who instead of fleeing from his home begin returning tricks on the ghost.
Sir Simon sinks into the depths of despair and depression until he meets young Virginia Otis, a girl with a passion for nature and all things green, who sees him for who he really is and helps him escape from his curse by solving the Canterville riddle.
The cast establish their characters early on in the show with spirit and vitality. Our favourite boisterous characters were the 8 year old boy twins played by Rose-Marie Christian (Stripes) and Mae Munuo (Stars). Elder son Washington (played by Nathaniel Wade) got all the laughs from the audience with his pancake trouser warming pitch to his family.
Paul McEwan does a parody of a ghost in his interpretation of Sir Simon, a wailing, creaking and rusting old fool, desperate to find a purpose to his never ending existence and escape from the Otises and himself or perhaps just trying to get a good night’s sleep.
Annie Fitzmaurice features as a double act: the narrator and the gloomy housekeeper Mrs Umney and does a brilliant job of freeze framing the action to give the audience insights into the tale as it moves along.
Our favourite and most contemporary touch were the advertisement interludes in which members of the Otis family show off products they have used to get ahead in the story (carpet stain remover for getting rid of the blood on the carpet or indigestion drops) these were fun touches that made us feel as if we were in a 3D youtube video, or simply observing the next instafamily in action.
‘I have nothing to declare but my genius’ supposedly said Oscar Wilde as he came through New York customs control in 1882 and even if the quote is bogus like many claim, his genius still shines through as relevant and contemporary today as it was in the 19th century.
The Canterville Ghost is on at Unicorn Theatre until 5 January 2020 and is recommended for ages 7 and above with tickets starting at £12. For more info and booking visit their website here.