Association of Community Theatre

Show Reviews 2017


by Bernard Farrell

directed by Gordon Ingleby

Colne Dramatic Society.


Very occasionally one comes across an unknown play that is so good that one wonders why it is not better known.  Usually lesser known plays are lesser known for a very good reason, but in the case of The Spirit of Annie Ross wider recognition is deserved, in my opinion.  It is an Irish play but wisely, the director decided not set it in Ireland so as to avoid having to have actors speaking with Irish accents. The change is of no consequence, in that the play could be set almost anywhere, meaning that performers won't have the added burden of speaking with a different voice.


The setting is the drawing room of an old, large, three storey house, with half panelled walls with doors SL and SR. There is an alcove USL and a picture of the past owner of the house on the back wall. A curtained window, with well stocked bookcase is in the space below the window, and a table with four chairs centre and stand chairs SR completed the set


The Gerry Ryan Show on the local radio station has set a challenge for a number of people to stay over night in a haunted house. Each participant has his or her own reason for taking part in the challenge, and, as the night progresses, their psychological ghosts appear. This is a  mysterious, hilarious world from which there is no escape, where characters are forced to explore their own personal hauntings as they unravel the ghostly past of Annie Ross. The unseen heroine is not the legendary jazz singer but a maid who died in the 1930s, having murdered the master and aborted his child. So now, this quartet is to spend the night in the house to see if Annie's ghost still walks, and, to raise money for a charity, the Let Us Feed the Starving Children of Africa project.


The quartet is Larry and his wife, Helen; Katie, a young hairdresser, and Colin, a teacher having a year's sabbatical, as he says, "to be a free spirit”.


The first couple on the scene is Larry and Helen.  Playing Larry, Mike McKeown was every inch the down to earth pragmatist who didn't believe in ghosts or an afterlife.  As he says, “All you have to do is stop at any graveyard and listen – and all you'll hear is one big silence.  ……… dead people are dead, they're not here, they're gone and they don't come back.” Larry works for a building society and he is in line for promotion as General Manager of a new outlet in Bromley, Kent.  He has an impending interview for the job but firmly believes he is going get it. With many of his attitudes, he reminded me somewhat of Harold Hobson.  He it was who was the driving force behind the Starving Children fund raising, desperately wanting to beat the bungee jumpers in  raising money for charity's sake.


His wife, Helen, played by Vivienne Thornber, has an awful lot to put up with.  Her husband could not have been the easiest person to live with, which meant that she spends different days pursuing various hobbies.  On Monday, it's pottery classes, Tuesdays, it's rug-making, Wednesdays it's literature and Thursdays, it is lampshade making while on Friday, it is public speaking. She is very much in control of her own destiny and was certainly a match for Larry, especially when he wants whiskey on top of his medication.  No messing around there, even if she is afraid of the dark. This was a lovely controlled performance from an actress who inhabits any role she undertakes.  Her understanding of each situation that unfolded was expertly handled.


There was a cameo appearance by Eric Beardsworth as William, the caretaker of the mansion. Grumpy, walking with a pronounced limp, preparing the room, much against his will, for the people who were to spend the night in the hope of witnessing the manifestation of spectral apparitions.  Eric was every inch the caretaker, and over the years, I have come into contact with caretakers with very much the same attitude:  “This is my domain.” This was an excellent portrayal and thoroughly believable.


Next on the scene saw the arrival of Katie, a young hairdresser. She comes prepared for a long night complete with an overnight bag and a sleeping bag. She has her very own reason for wishing to be part of this experiment to witness the appearance of Annie Ross. Played by Evonne Beardsworth, she has a bubbly personality with a zest for life but harbouring a deep longing for her recently deceased mother. The scene where she describes the death of her mother was beautifully played and must certainly have brought a lump to the throat of all but the most hardened cynic.  You could have heard a pin drop in the auditorium as she related her heartbreaking story.  I have not seen Evonne before but I am certainly looking forward to seeing her in another production.  Well done.


The last performer to appear is Colin, the teacher having a year out to experience a free spirit life. David Anthony Cross played the bluff, insecure character that was Colin.  Unsure of himself at times he was quick to offer his opinions on life and living, whether or not it caused offence.  When it did cause problems, he was equally quick to make amends and pour oil on troubled waters.  I nice performance full of light and shade, as it should be.


This is a play that is a by turns, a comedy, a ghost story, a thriller and an example of excellent storytelling.


Gordon Ingleby is a superb director who has once again, created, together with his cast, an excellent evening's entertainment.  All the dialogue was well pointed and there was never any unnecessary movement.


I was impressed also by the sound and visual effects which were always on cue and never over-powering.


This was a play to be thoroughly recommended for a night at the theatre.  Congratulations to everyone involved, and thank you for your hospitality.  I look forward to seeing “The Hound of the Baskervilles”.