In an intimate room upstairs at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, this engaging show presents three separate monologues – all based on classic horror stories. The adaptations are adventurous, though true to the essence of the originals, and each in its own way throws an interesting new light on the underlying tale.
First up is Charles Dickens' The Signal-Man, a classic text given an unexpected twist by a switch in the narrator's role. In place of the nondescript male traveller who recounts Dickens' original, we have an Edwardian-era governess – an inspired substitution, which transforms the spirit of the piece while preserving the period tone of the storyline. Emma Kemp plays the governess with a mix of inquisitiveness and practicality, making her an excellent foil for the eponymous railway signalman whose macabre visions she describes.
For me, though, there's a problem with the pace of the monologue, which shortens and simplifies Dickens' story and reduces the period it covers from three days to two. It's too hurried, I feel; the portent and menace which define the plot lack the space they need to grow. Paradoxically, the telling also lacks some urgency at times. Perhaps the cool, collected governess is just a little too unflappable for the story's demands.
The second story, based on Mary Shelley's The Mortal Immortal, was the most successful piece for me. Again, it's a relatively free-handed adaptation: the audience are cast as visitors to a lunatic asylum, and there's pleasing ambiguity about whether the man we see in front of us really is entirely sane. Connor Jones strikes some delicate notes in his portrayal of the narrator, who seems eternally on the borderline between wide-eyed openness and wild-eyed madness.
This man was once an alchemist's apprentice, but his life changed forever in one impetuous act – a plot twist which came a little too much out of nowhere for my taste. But overall, both the story and the performance carried me along, with a gradual heightening of the character's emotion eventually building to a heart-rending crescendo of despair.
The final piece sees a switch of both milieu and gender, as Edgar Allen Poe's Tell-Tale Heart is relocated to – wait for it – a Scottish B&B. There's a smattering of overt comedy to this particular tale, with a marigold-gloved cleaner fussing and fretting her way through an elaborate rationalisation of an unexplained scream. And there are some well-judged embellishments too: the cleaner has a particularly well-honed sense of touch, a motif that sits nicely within the story.
It's fun, in a cheerfully camp kind of way, and Erin Elkin builds an instant rapport for her character. But I think this one has the opposite problem to The Signal-Man: the adaptation is stretched too long and too thin. The original story is actually very short, and I felt I'd got as much as I would get from the monologue quite some time before it drew to a close.
TumbleDry Theatre deserve credit for the bold adjustments they've made to the stories, and their big ideas all work very well. Some refinement to the timings, and a little more portent here and there, could turn this from a good show into a great one.