Lear-style scary fun

The Doubtful Guest, by Shon Dale-Jones, New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich until SaturdayThis is an Edward Lear-style scary nonsense tale, written in the twentieth century, and staged by one of our truly whimsical and original theatrical talents.

Ivan Howlett

The Doubtful Guest, by Shon Dale-Jones, New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich April 5

This is an Edward Lear-style scary nonsense tale, written in the twentieth century, and staged by one of our truly whimsical and original theatrical talents.

Shon Dale-Jones, the artistic director of Hoipolloi, has taken the story by the American illustrator/writer, Edward Gorey and created a magical stage pastiche that pays homage to Lear, Dodgson, Milligan, Monty Python, silent movies and everything theatrically quirky.


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It's a tale about a prosperous Edwardian family, who live in a big house untroubled by the world. Then one day they find they have a problem. A bird-like creature, wearing a scarf and canvas shoes, arrives, stays for 17 years and never goes away.

Though a funny concept, the unwelcome guest is certainly spooky, and not a little sinister. As time goes by, it causes more and more havoc, looking up flues, eating plates, moving things round, hiding towels, throwing things it likes into the pond, blocking people behind doors - in fact just driving everyone through exasperation and towards madness.

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When you ask yourself why, you come up with suggestions like the creature is an outside, new influence or force, which is trying to disturb the family's smug middle class propriety. Their self-righteousness is wonderfully captured in a cameo scene in the drawing-room where we see them busy and elegantly doing absolutely nothing at all, one of their favourite occupations.

The charm of the show, and the whimsy of it, which hooks you from the very beginning, is the way it tells the story. We're in the world of the amateur, oddly spoken, Victorian illustrated lecture, with demonstrations, set-up scenes, models, pictures and objects on pulleys let down from the ceiling, and visual aids - a blackboard and electronic screens.

The performers - Ben Frimson, Jill Norman, the extraordinarily ginger- bewigged Trond-Erik Vassdal, Andrew Pembroke and Stefanie Muller make an elegant ensemble, the influence of the French mime tradition running deeply through it. Three of them, including Hoipolloi designer, the talented Stefanie Muller, trained at the Theatre Jacques Lecoq School in Paris, where a physical theatre tradition involving gesture and dance was developed. I remember Steven Berkoff being much influenced by it in his experimental theatre days.

Shon Dale-Jones has a rare and truly original theatrical mind. His quest is not just to amuse but enrich our imagination. The Doubtful Guest does both.

Don't miss it.

Ivan Howlett

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