The Canterville Ghost ★★★★

The Canterville Ghost, Oscar Wilde’s spine-chilling ghost story, gets a unique retelling by Tall Stories.

Oscar Wilde’s The Canterville Ghost was first published in two parts in 1887 and like much of Wilde’s works, the story has been adapted many times for stage TV and film, including a 1944 Hollywood film featuring Charles Loughton, a TV film in 1996 film starring Patrick Stewart and more recently an animated film voiced by Stephen Fry. Currently touring the UK, is Tall Stories’ adaptation a welcomed refreshing take on a well-trodden story? 

When the Otis family buy and move into Canterville Chase, they are warned that it’s haunted but are initially unfazed and disbelieving. Naturally, as these stories go, the family soon meet the ghost of Sir Simon Canterville, who was accused of murdering his wife and subsequently chained up and left by her brothers to starve to death as punishment. Much to the disappointment of In a typical Wildean twist, the family are unperturbed by Sir Simon Canterville’s ghostly presence and his attempted terrifying haunting. In fact, the twin children of Hiram B. Otis turn the tables and start to torment Sir Simon in return. With three-hundred years of lack of sleep, Sir Simon yearns for death and is soon aided towards the afterlife by Hiram’s older child Miss Virginia E. Otis…  

Tall Stories co-founders and writers Olivia Jacobs and Toby Mitchell have set out to reimagine Oscar Wilde’s classic spooky short story by changing the narrative and have reframed the action to a Victorian musical hall, with all parts played by just four music hall acts: The Psychic , The Comedian, The Illusionist and The Compere (Steve Watts). 

All images by Charles Flint

The acts perform an abridged, stripped-back version of the story in six parts, which are interspersed with their own signature musical hall routines. We are firstly introduced to the proceedings by the smooth charismatic chairman of the music hall Stephen Sublime, who sets the scene and atmosphere for the evening ahead. 

The first act to have their solo moment in a break from the plot is The Illusionist (Callum Patrick Hughes), who tells his own story as one of a pick-pocket, magician and convict all though the medium of some neat tricks involving classic sleight of hand with coins, disappearing canes and a hovering champagne glass. Hughes clearly has fun with these tricks which come thick and fast and wow the audience with an action-packed routine. 

Then The Comedian (Matt Jopling) follows next with a thoroughly entertaining ventriloquist act. Eddie is Matty’s fowl-mouthed brother, who spares none of the fellow acts with his sharp critical tongue and is delightfully cheeky and smutty. Matt Jopling is a skilful ventriloquist and the act is a perfect fit for the show.  

Canterville’s fruit cake-loving maid (also played by Hughes channeling Rik Mayall) opens the second half with a witty song about leaving Canterville Chase, aided by the rest of the cast and a trunk full of goodies. 

Next up is the Psychic Lorelei Diamond (Katie Tranter) who demonstrates her somewhat-shonky ability to speak to the spirits. Tranter shines in the role as the fake medium, whilst also pulling off some impressive Derren Brown-style mind-bending tricks with some poor unfortunates in the front row.  

As the last acts of the play are staged and Sir Simon’s ghost is set free from 300 hundred years of haunting, the musical hall sections descend into darker territories charting the smoky disappearance of the music hall acts which leads to an intriguingly and successfully somber and melancholic ending after all of the high jinx. 

Oscar Wilde puritans are likely to be uncertain with this reimagining, as much of Wilde’s original story is truncated and characters cut to fit the music hall retelling. Fusing music, magic and comedy could jar with the storytelling, however the various elements have been cleverly integrated to feel like a natural part of a music hall show, whilst successfully keeping the overall feel and the atmosphere of a smoky Victorian music hall. 

The performers are thoroughly entertaining and skilful in their own fields throughout and their energy and commitment never dips. At the same time they all gel together as part of the ensemble of characters within the sections of the play. 

The Canterville Ghost has plenty of heart, warmth and humour which will appeal to older children and adults alike and is a great introduction to the world of Oscar Wilde.


When a show warns about moments of puppet profanity you know you’re in for an entertaining evening – ★★★★ (4 stars from The Recs)

The Canterville Ghost Tickets

The Canterville Ghosts runs at Southwark Playhouse until 5 November.

It will play Tyne Theatre & Opera House on October 8 and Redgrave Theatre, Bristol on 13 and 14 November

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