Review: The Witching Hour at Tyne Theatre & Opera House

Review: The Witching Hour at Tyne Theatre & Opera House

The Witching Hour

Tyne Theatre and Opera House

31st May 2024

When you want to tell a ghost story in a theatrical setting then you need to look no further than The Tyne Theatre and Opera House. This grade one listed Victorian theatre in the heart of Newcastle is the perfect place for creaks, groans and spooky goings on even before curtain up on this macabre story of dastardly clerics, witchcraft and intrigue. 

As the audience arrives they are unnerved by the presence of cloaked monks mysteriously passing among them with more than a feel of menace. The soundscape of eerie noises adds to the atmosphere with great effect as the theatre goers take their seats. A lot of thought has gone into the aesthetics of this production and much praise has to go to lighting designer Alex Johnson who was also responsible for the set. Praise also to sound designer, Dan Clarkson who brought some clever ideas and sounds which added to the tension throughout. 

It is always a little difficult to write a review of this kind of show because it would pain me greatly to spoil any of the action that I certainly enjoyed as someone who had very little idea of what to expect so I will be sparse in my descriptions of the plot. The story concerns a masters student, Erin (Jessica Porter) who is interested in the occult but is more than a little sceptical about it. The show opens with a history Professor Dubois (Mark Kitto) giving a lecture on witchcraft and the tropes mainly associated with Halloween and all things spooky. After Erin show an interest, the professor suggests a case study the eager young researcher may want to investigate to prove or otherwise the existence of witches and witchcraft.

To this end, the curious student asks her brother, Sam (Saul Bache), to accompany her on a field trip to the home of Elspeth Langford (Eleanor May Blackburn) who was sentenced to death for witchery some 400 years previously. 

There is a loving but tense dynamic between brother and sister, Sam and Erin, which really shines out from the stage. They have a history and differing attachments to their parents which adds to the complexity of the narrative. 

Essentially, this is a ghost/horror story as the title suggests but there is some interesting social commentary and the direction from James Williams builds the action and tension with a subtle and deft touch. The script interweaves modern references with folklore and religion very effectively although some elements are so signposted they could be seen from space. Nevertheless, it is a piece of theatre that does make you think about the way we treat each other. 

There are jumps aplenty in this spooky tale and I delight in them. I do feel that one in particular was probably used a little too frequently in the opening sequence that it became a little tedious. 

As the audience enter, they are greeted by a singly lit lectern on the stage from which Professor Dubois delivers his lecture. This peels away to the now deserted home of accused witch Elspeth Langford most dramatically. Once again I give credit to set designer Alex Johnson. 

I am going to give my star of the show this evening to Saul Bache who played the part of gardener brother, Sam. His acting was outstanding and he really brought the audience onside. His skill at closing a pop up tent and putting it back into its bag was, frankly, awe inspiring. Rev. Wood’s wig, on the other hand, really needs to be condemned to a fiery furnace because the poor actor battled with it from the moment he put the thing on and it became a little distracting. 

This production has everything you want from a spooky ghost story. I am sure there were nuances in the often thought-provoking script I did not pick up on. Very well done to all the cast and creatives for an absorbing evening and I will look out for this company returning to the Tyne Theatre and Opera House in the future.

Review by Stephen Stokoe

*press tickets provided

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