When I sat down to watch Unicorn Theatre’s new production of The Canterville Ghost, I was not in the best of moods. Things up till that point had been rather chaotic (the show started 15 minutes late, and I overheard families complaining about being seated apart due to confusion over seating) and the disability access could have been better. I was worried about my ability to be objective. It turns out I needn’t have worried, because new artistic director Justin Audibert’s production is so effortlessly smooth and sparky it would warm the coldest heart.
The plot is simple: a family of up to the minute gadget-loving Americans decamp to rainy tea-obsessed old England, where they treat a series of horrifying ghostly events with indomitable spirit. Slightly disappointingly for a play with “ghost” in the title it is not scary or spooky and the sole mystery is revealed almost immediately, but it’s just so much good fun.
The cast are without exception a joy to watch (though the stereotypical gender dynamics of nagging perfectionist wife and laid back husband could stand to be updated), with special praise going to Safiyya Ingar’s Virginia whose genuine empathy towards the ‘ghost’ provides a much-needed counterbalance to the boisterous humour of the rest of the cast, and to Paul McEwan’s Sir Simon who leaves no scenery unchewed, but in a good way. The magic tricks used to break up the scenes in the form of adverts for the ghost-removing products broke up the narrative too much, but the younger members of the audience were certainly enthralled.
The thing that stands out most from this production is the obvious utter commitment from everyone involved to give a child audience the most entertainment possible, without patronising them. The script isn’t afraid to go to dark – and gory – places, but don’t kids love that? This adult certainly did.
The Canterville Ghost is on until 5 January 2020 https://www.unicorntheatre.com/CantervilleGhost