The Haunting of Blaine Manor, written and directed by Joe O’Bryne, combines the glitz of Hollywood’s Golden Age with a good old-fashioned ghost story. Performed at the Epstein Theatre, which itself is said to be haunted, it tells the story of Blaine Manor, the most haunted house in England and the unfortunate people who are in it on a stormy night in 1953.

Renowned parapsychologist, Doctor Roy Earle (Peter Slater), is visiting Blaine Manor in order to prove that it is not haunted and ghosts aren’t real. He will be attending a séance hosted by mindreader and medium, Cairo (Andrew Yates) and medium, Adolphus Scarabus (Phil Dennison). Journalist, Vivian Rutledge (Jo Haydock) is there for the scoop while custodian, Vincent de Lambré (Ed Barry) is making the guests as comfortable as possible, with the occasional help from Grady, the butler (Joe O’Byrne).

As the storm picks up outside it quickly becomes clear that everyone in the house has a few secrets, especially Roy, whose dark past back home in America has followed him across the sea to England. Something has awoken in the house, whether Roy wants to believe it or not, and it may just be too late to go to the local inn for a sound night’s sleep.

The set is made up of elegant period furniture which, together with the smart and glamorously dressed cast, creates the Old Hollywood atmosphere. This is juxtaposed with hints of horror in the background, like the odd skull on a shelf and Yates’ horrific ghostly make-up. This combination creates an ominous feeling and tension in a world which is both familiar and distant to a modern audience.

The pace of the play is very gentle which adds to the menacing feeling of the show and emphasises the edgy scenes very well. Excellent use is made of light and sound to create crashes, bangs and flashes of light which cause both the cast and audience to jump out of their skins. In contrast to the sound, silence is also used to brilliant effect to create tension, something which is particularly difficult to do onstage, when a short silence can feel like an eternity.

References are often made to the weighty tome, The History of Blaine Manor which is read from several times throughout the play. The book features various ghost stories about the house, including the tale of the horseman of Blaine Manor, who Roy saw when he arrived at the house causing him to crash his car into the lake. Having been rescued by the ghost, he still refuses to accept what he has seen with his own eyes and insists that both Cairo and Adolphus are fakes, taking advantage of people’s grief.

Gentle touches of comedy throughout the show stop the play becoming too morbid and emphasise the classical glamour of the 1950s world being created. Themes of witchcraft and the place of women, explorations of mental health and suicide, create some very interesting questions which mean that the play does not become a two-dimensional haunted house story.

Yates’ stage presence is particularly strong. His eerie make-up and strong German accent, means that his character stands out whenever he is onstage, but this is emphasised by excellent facial expression and posture which gives real life to his persona.

Slater’s performance is very passionate and the changes in his mood are done exceedingly well, particularly as Roy becomes increasingly paranoid and agitated. Haydock’s glamourous Mrs Rutledge, is very understated and portrays the time period very well. Towards the end of the play Haydock really comes into her own and is outstanding during the conclusion.

The Haunting of Blaine Manor will leave you at the edge of your seat and possibly looking over your shoulder when you leave. A classic tale for a modern world, it has taken all the best bits of mid-twentieth century gothic horror and created a very special piece of theatre.

The Haunting of Blaine Manor is on tour until 31st October, appropriately concluding with a Halloween performance in Whitby. Further information is available here

Reviewer: Donna M Day

Reviewed: 6th September 2019

North West End Rating: ★★★★