Feature: The Canterville Ghost (UK tour)

Tall Stories are back on the road with Oscar Wilde’s ghost story – and they have given it their own special twist. We caught up with director Olivia Jacobs for a special glimpse into The Canterville Ghost.

Tickets and tour details: https://www.tallstories.org.uk/the-canterville-ghost – currently running at the Southwark Playhouse.

Production image for The Canterville Ghost

There have been many adaptations of this story. What should audiences expect from the Tall Stories version?

They should expect the unexpected…. This is an unusual and quirky adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s dark comic story of The Canterville Ghost.

It combines Oscar Wilde’s spooky short story with the tale of four extraordinary music hall performers.

It’s a gloriously ghoulish spooky spectacular full of extraordinary illusions, original live music, psychic powers, and a lot of laughs…

With just four people, a vaudeville sensibility, and puppets, this sounds like a riot? Can the story of Sir Simon survive?

It is, to be fair, a bit of a riot and it could definitely be described as an unusual take on Wilde’s story.

There’s a huge amount of entertainment crammed into the production and, with the story of four music hall entertainers intertwined with the story of The Canterville Ghost, there are certainly a few surprises along the way …

The Tall Stories production looks at the stories of those who have gone before us and how they are remembered – rightly or wrongly?

The legacy of Sir Simon, Wilde’s disgruntled ghost who cannot rest after being accused of murder, is set alongside the story of the four music hall performers as they too question how they have been remembered and the legacy they leave behind.

But the production is called The Canterville Ghost for a reason, and Sir Simon’s story remains pivotal and unforgettable. Sir Simon will simply not be forgotten.

As Mrs Umney, the last remaining servant at Canterville Hall, so astutely puts it at the start of Act 2 ‘If you don’t remember us, then who’ll remember you?’

You have a 6-week tour ahead of you, with a midpoint stop-off in London. Do the different venue’s impact on how you perform the show – and in a good or bad way?

The different venues do, of course, make a huge difference to the performances.

The scale of the venue, how the audience are seated (on cabaret tables, on a flat floor looking up at a raised stage, on raked seating looking down etc), the lighting in the space, the sound, the height of the ceiling, the acoustics all have an impact on how the show looks and sounds.

Whilst we as a visiting company are not necessarily in control of all of those elements, the audience experience can totally chance depending on how they are received when they step into the venue.

Are the front of house team helpful? Are the bar staff efficient and friendly, are the queues too long, are the drinks priced too high? You’d be surprised how much these things effect the mood of the audience before they even step into the theatre space.

Hopefully, no matter what their experience is, we can win them over in whatever space we play …

The Canterville Ghost sits awkwardly in a way with Oscar Wilde’s comedies of manners. What attracted you to it?

I’m not sure that I would say that it sits awkwardly, but rather that it stands out!

The Canterville Ghost is the perfect example of a great story told with genuine flair. Full of Wildean wit and charm,

The Canterville Ghost is a superb example of a comically spooky tale which also has great depth and a real sense of tragedy. Whilst we have used Wilde’s original story as the basis of the production, we have also updated the story for a contemporary audience.

In Wilde’s original story, a man is forgiven for the brutal murder of his wife. In this day and age, we’d find this questionable at the very least.

We’ve used Wilde’s story as our springboard, but we’ve certainly moulded it a little and adapted the story and the production to suit a modern-day audience.

We’ve also added a second story, of four music hall performers, which we feel enhances the first.

Like Sir Simon, we all become stories in the end, and Wilde’s classic tale of a disgruntled ghost who wishes he was remembered well, has a truly universal appeal.

Set that alongside magic, illusion, psychic reading, comedy, original live music, great storytelling and a lot of laughs and we hope that our production of The Canterville Ghost will appeal to audiences as much as Wilde’s story did to us when we first read it!

What is the best thing about devising theatre for families?

This production was devised with an amazing company of actors, designers, composers and choreographers.

We spent time in a room together trying initially to determine how and why we wanted to tell this story – then we worked on how the piece might look, how we might portray the characters (both the music hall and Canterville characters) and we began to improvise sections. And we chose the best of those improvisations to form the basis of a script.

The joy of a being Director in a devising process is that you get to facilitate and combine all the skills in the room to finally create a show that (we hope) does justice to Wilde’s story and gives audiences more than perhaps they bargained for (in a good way).

Wilde’s original story includes a reappearing bloodstain, a headless ghost, and a disappearance – which seems already quite a lot to devise.

Add to that an illusionist, a psychic, a ventriloquist and comedian and a whole heap of original live music – and we certainly didn’t make it easy for ourselves!

We’re proud of the result – and we hope you love it.

Production image for The Canterville Ghost

My thanks to Olivia.

Image credit: Tall Stories