East Anglia: Ghostly goings-on at Canterville Chase this Christmas

Common Ground Theatre Company's The Canterville Ghost

Common Ground Theatre Company's The Canterville Ghost - Credit: Archant

“We’re putting the finishing touches to the script... well writing frantically basically,” smiles Julian Harries, who I’ve caught during a rare quiet moment to talk about his and Pat Whymark’s latest lunacy laced Christmas show, The Canterville Ghost.

Common Ground Theatre Company's The Canterville Ghost

Common Ground Theatre Company's The Canterville Ghost - Credit: Archant

It’s been a hectic few months for Common Ground Theatre Company; as we speak it’s still touring classic adventure tale The Prisoner of Zenda. Before that was its large-scale community play Harriet Walker - Forgotten Lives.

“There’s just me and Pat basically, in our kitchen, running everything, so we found ourselves on the back foot. You could argue that’s subconsciously what we need, we always need a deadline. In my conscious mind I don’t like pressure, I like to be ahead of the game but it hardly ever happens.”

Adapted from Oscar Wilde’s short story, it sees Mr and Mrs Otis and their children move to Canterville Chase despite its reputation for headless horseman, white ladies, ghostly pirates and zombies who are all presided over by The Canterville Ghost - a Tudor fop with a centuries-old curse and ridiculous hat on his head.

“We’ve got some great ideas... it’s going to have the same sort of surreal, silly quality that Dial M for Murgatroyd (last year’s show for Eastern Angles) had but this is going to be a family show, very much geared to younger people,” says co-writer and the titular ghost Julian.

“It’ not a children’s story but the main characters are the children who arrive at this house and basically confront this ghost. It’s all about the tables being turned and I think that appeals to kids, especially when it comes to spooks and ghouls... they’re the ones scaring the ghost and they love it.”

With Wilde’s story providing the bare bones of the story - “Actually, it’s written as a monologue, so one of our ideas is after this production we strip it down and turn it into a one-man show for me and take it on the road because we’re always looking for cheap shows and I’ll have the costume,” he laughs - the cast are going to town on the production.

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Don’t expect the quick changes of Dial M though.

“We wanted to do a big number on the ghost in terms of make-up and costume; make him very grand, very magical so it may well be if I get togged up in my full regalia then quick changes are going to be difficult.

“Tim Welton, who’s directing Aladdin at the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds this year saw Dial M and nicked our quick change act Pat Marlow who played Mrs Murgatroyd,” laughs Julian.

“Tim asked me if I wanted to do the Bury panto and it’s always difficult because we’re still in the process of building Common Ground Theatre from the ground up... if you get offered paid work you have to think hard about it. We need to build the company’s profile and that means keeping doing shows; if we miss a year, that’s bad.”

Being a small scale operation isn’t necessarily a bad thing, he adds. It forces you to get really creative.

“If government funding disappeared overnight theatre would survive, but in the form we do it; basically going back to the old-fashioned strolling players getting up on a makeshift stage and working on the audience’s imagination. Nothing else can do that, nothing else does that thing of turning a stick into a sword.”

Confidently predicting their’s will be the funniest show you’ll see during the festive season, he and Pat are looking forward to a bit of a breather after Canterville’s done; the plan being to collapse in a heap and let Christmas just happen around them.

Before then, it’s back to the rehearsal room; aka their kitchen.

“With some jobs it’s good to go in with very definite ideas, particularly if it’s a scenario where you feel you have to hold your own. With the collaborative, laidback approach we like to work in, we like to create an atmosphere in rehearsals where everyone can chip in with ideas and contribute and not just shut up and do what they’re told.

“Sometimes I do think ‘oh that’s such a good line I wish I’d given that to me’,” he laughs.

The Canterville Ghost runs at Framlingham Theatre from December 19-24, Aldeburgh’s Jubilee Hall December 27-31, Walton’s St Mary’s Hall January 2-4 and Ipswich’s New Wolsey Studio from January 9-11.

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