21 years after their first Edinburgh Fringe show, ‘The Happy Prince and Other Stories’, Tall Stories return to the festival with another Oscar Wilde adaptation. The Canterville Ghost is a far cry from their more kid-friendly shows, adapting the classic ghost story into a spectacular vaudeville show. Written and directed by Olivia Jacobs and Toby Mitchell, you can see the show every day at the Pleasance Courtyard.
It’s still the classic story of the Otis family moving into Canterville Hall, ignoring the warnings that a petrifying ghost roams its halls. But no matter how hard the Canterville ghost tries, the new family does not seem too bothered by their resident spectre. However, don’t expect a conventional adaptation of the Wilde tale. The four cast members don’t so much play the characters in the story as four Victorian entertainers playing the characters in the story. There’s a compere, a magician, a comedian and a psychic, and their story is broken up by each member of the troupe doing their thing to entertain the crowd. Expect lots of illusion, jokes, and a foul-mouthed ventriloquist dummy.
Being a member of this troupe is no easy feat; as well as mastering your respective skill, the show demands being able to sing, dance, and tell jokes. The amazing range of performance seen in the show gives The Canterville Ghost the grand feel of a Victorian variety act. Apart from some pre-recorded sounds, there is no sense of being in the ‘future’; the effects, magic tricks and music are all created on-stage. The lighting, set and costumes all look authentically 19th century as well.
Though sometimes the shifts between music, magic and serious drama are a little jarring, The Canterville Ghost enjoyably recreates the kind of variety entertainment lost to time. It’s such a light-hearted, awe-inspiring exhibition of talent that you won’t be prepared for its poignant ending. Such a smart, innovative show is fitting as a tribute to the genius of Oscar Wilde.