For those who grew up reading E. Nesbit's tales of horror and the macabre, Edith in the Dark will provide a mixture of a trip down memory lane and the knowledge of a fair bit of the author's real life. For the uninitiated – perhaps those who only know her for The Railway Children – it will be an enjoyable 80 minutes of spine-tingling horror.
The narrative of this show, brought to stage by Harrogate Theatre in association with Reform Theatre, is split into three short stories. The act opens with Edith hiding in her writing room on the night of her husband's Christmas party, and the appearance of an unwanted guest Mr Guasto, who is a fan of her writing. Together, along with her housekeeper, they read aloud from her 'Tales of Terror': one story about of two friends who both wish to marry the same handsome Colonel, another about a maiden that waits by a grave, and a third describing a woman selling her soul to the devil in return for the chance to wait for her lost lover. These readings are interspersed with Edith's own life story: the raising of her husband's mistresses' children, the lonely life of writing, her terrible memories from the past and the inspirations for her stories.
The acting prowess of Blue Merrick leaves nothing to be desired. As a presumably older Edith, she is mysterious during her reading, almost malevolent in her love for the evil in her books – yet funny when the script so demands. She puts up a very enjoyable performance. Both Scott Ellis as Mr Guasto and Rebecca Mahon as the housekeeper are the perfect supporting actors, alternating between various characters seamlessly.
Of course, the stories are written for children, and so the level of horror isn't one that's likely to leave you with chills. There are plenty of creepy moments, but the use of jump scares is proof enough of having to resort to less subtle ploys to keep a grown-up audience on edge. I personally also felt the switching of the actors' gender added little to the enactments of the stories: there are roles enough in this play for everyone, so why not let the man play the Colonel and the woman the woman, unless there's a good reason to the contrary? But those are minor issues in what is otherwise a thoroughly entertaining performance, off the back of a fine script.
And Momentum Venues at St Stephen offer a dramatic venue for a horror show. The stage itself is about four foot elevated, and tall actors on it seem towering, like apparitions – ideal for a surreal setting. A word of caution though: choose to sit in the front couple of rows, and you'll have a crick in your neck at the end of 80 minutes!