The Black Staircase – Reviewed
The Black Staircase was a fantastic concept that worked wonderfully well in the castle. A few more weeks spent on the script and character and the show would be unstoppable.
Within the first few minutes of The Black Staircase it was clear that this play would be rather different to your average student production. The audience were ushered into the Great Hall of Durham Castle following Paul (Paul Moss) listening to him explaining that he had seen a ghost and that he was trying to find his recently deceased sister. He urged us to ‘follow every ghost you see’ and to ‘split up from your friends’. …
Intrigued, the audience were led through the Hall and onto the Black Staircase where two maids rushed past the audience. Some followed them. Others followed the Doctor and his patient who were marching to a different point in the castle. From then on, we were led on a helter-skelter half hour of moving around the castle following our chosen storyline. As you can imagine, it is rather difficult to comment objectively on the whole piece (I was told that to experience the entirety of the Black Staircase one would have to see it five times) but I can venture some opinion on the storyline I followed.
It was set in 1945 and Guy Hughes played an emotionally compromised airman who, having disobeyed orders flying a sortie over the channel had inadvertently caused the death of his co-pilot and friend. Tortured by guilt he had begun to see the ghost of his dead friend. Hughes performed the role with an impressive intensity but was not helped by the script which was rather unsubtle and blunt. That is to say, Hughes acted his part well but the part he was asked to play was not particularly well written.
Natasha Cowley playing his betrothed was equally impressive and her spine-tingling scream in the blackness of one of the Castle’s sumptuous bedrooms was perhaps the highlight of the evening. Unfortunately, I felt again that her part was something of a stock character and lacked subtlety. Charlie Warner brought a good sense of professionalism to his role as the Doctor but I did feel sometimes that he failed to match the intensity of Hughes.
I must be clear; I really, really, liked this play. Despite its obvious problems (the weak script and underdeveloped and stock characters) the concept was brilliant. The actors, while not being perfect, performed their roles well enough to really engage the audience and inject a palpable sense of horror into their roles and the piece. I still cannot quite understand how every separate storyline managed to finish in time for the final dénouement which involved every single ghost back in the Great Hall.
In short then, the Black Staircase was a fantastic concept that worked wonderfully well in the castle. A few more weeks spent on the script and character and the show would be unstoppable.