Edinburgh Fringe 2014
This is delicious. When Leopold Clarke is sent to check out what’s going on at a Borley Rectory style house, he’s unprepared for the horror, the chills, and the strangulated lexicon that awaits him.
Coming across as the fervent cheese dream after having spent far too much time in the company of Roald Dahl and Mark Gatiss, Tom Neenan’s story manages that all-too rare beast of being both funny and chilling. Half the gasps from the audience were in delight of the smartness of the jokes – sometimes gags about torture, sometimes simply gags that were tortured – and the other gasps were in shock at genuinely scary moments.
Because pretty much every line is an example of genius, it’s difficult to speak even about what the plot is. We can’t discuss how Clarke’s wife died, we can’t discuss the décor of Lopham House’s hallway – we can’t even mention how rich Clarke’s employer is: each of these lines, and many more, are wonderful pieces of language wrangling of the highest order.
So yes, annoyingly, there’s no way that this review can demonstrate the wit and smart verbal wordplay of this piece – to quote any line would rob a potential audience member of the joy of discovering that not one line is wasted and demonstrates an awe-inspiring amount of smarts that frankly left this hack reviewer bitterly jealous. The Haunting At Lopham House is an involving tale, charismatically delivered by Tom Neenan playing a gauche and nervous young man from the turn of last century, while confidently world-building a whole other era.
Neenan gives us a collection of wonderfully depicted characters all carved from the genre of scratchy Hammer or Amicus movies, but who are still all wonderfully original (although there is a gorgeous blink-and-you’ll-miss it quote from a classic 80’s horror movie). The story exactly matches any portmanteau / Pan Horror paperback story you care to mention – much to the delight of the audience (when a particular twist comes, Clarke realises with grim apathy what’s going on just before the true horror reveals itself).
We’re at the height of the summer festival, watching shows in hot huts all over Edinburgh, but Neenan’s story puts one in mind of the BBC’s Ghost Stories For Christmas, and you hope that if someone was brave enough to film it whilst retaining the one-man show aspect, then we’d be brave enough to watch it. Whistle, and it might just come to you, my lad.