Two for joy
Three for a girl
Four for a boy
Five for silver
Six for gold
Seven for a secret never to be told…
Down a dark, dark alley, through a creaking oak door and ancient steps into a room within the oldest building in Exeter -St Nicholas’s Priory, ushered into a cellar with a stone coffin. We were watched over by stuffed magpies, a faint waft of folklore rosemary was soon lost by bubbling mulled wine and the muffled chatter of strangers assembled, waiting.
So, time was called and we trudged upstairs a motley intimate audience of approximately 40 into the great hall an oak beamed, plaster worked open space with wonky floorboards sparsely lit with flickering fake candles (health and safety). The story unfolds, a reworking of a classic Victorian melodrama of the ‘missing bride’ many old great houses lay claim to the story of a bride who plays hide and seek on her wedding day but mysteriously vanishes. Contemporary writer Kate Mosse tells her own version in her short story The Mistletoe Bride from 2013. But, there is a bit more going on here condensed into one hour with a repeat show at 9pm. We have the mad woman in the attic scenario with a nod to The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman from 1892 whereby, ‘hysterical’ women were confined to quarters and treated as chattel, their only solace was their diaries. The play touches on seances with the intriguing glass harmonica reputed to drive the player and listener stark raving mad and a candidate for a lunatic asylum or monastery as in the character Ignatius’s case. To summarise the main characters are a very young new (second) wife marrying a ‘man old enough to be my father,’ his brother and a narrator who doubles as a friend and adviser. There is a wedding, the bride disappears.
During the performance there was clever use of audio visual with back projection of a filmed scene that complemented and added another layer to the story with sound effects of clocks ticking and a melodramatic haunting song of the old nursey rhyme on which the story is based One for Sorrow which in this version culminated in a mass slaying of 7 magpies.
The actors made use of space and few props in which less is more as the venue is the ultimate setting and prop here. The actors were authentic in their roles Thomas played by Richard Pulman made a suitable stoic dominant groom, Ignatius the brother was played by co-writer Midge Mullin a creepy individual with physical presence who will keep you guessing and the doomed bride by Fern Stone and her end scene I can assure, will resonate. Nathan Simpson plays a good hand of God and narrator controlling the action and ending the performance well with subtle touches and mastery. Director and co-writer Rose Mullin should feel proud of her period piece; a classic Winter’s night ghost story. My only quibble is to have more of the ‘ghost’ appear and glide subtly through a scene with minimal lighting and more silence to taught Thomas further.
This is the second outing by Substance and Shadow Theatre the first venue was the equally eerie Tuckers Hall a stone’s throw away. They have produced something well rounded and intriguing to Exeter and its heritage and complement their venues well with a synergy that is commendable and admirable. This is what independent local theatre should be about.