7 February 2014

White Carnation at Jermyn Street Theatre

Somehow I booked The White Carnation without realising that it was about the supernatural, or I did and then I forgot, and so it was a surprise to discover that it was when the theatre posted an update on Facebook the day that I went to see it.

Discovering, or rediscovering, that it was a supernatural thriller was exciting. This is a genre that does not make the stage much there days, this play is sixty years old, so this show was a little special for that.

Actually it was special for all sorts of reasons.

I loved the story because it was unusual (and not just for its genre) and I could not see the end coming until it came. It was a neat and very satisfactory ending too.

The other nice surprise was that I knew two of the cast from the Orange Tree Theatre. One of these was Robert Benfield who I shared a few words with at the Richard Rogers exhibition last year and I was pleased to see him in one of the main roles.

I am still not sure why the Jermyn Street Theatre has allocated seating when none of the other theatres that I go to that sort of size. The plus side of this is that I was able to stay in the local pub (the rather nice Three Crowns) until just before the play started. The downside was that I had a seat in the second row rather than the first, though that was by no means a problem.

The story starts at a Christmas dinner party given by a wealthy stockbroker during the last war. He goes to see some guests off on their way home only for a sudden gust of wind to close the door to the house behind him. He is unable to rouse anybody in the house so he breaks in by smashing a window and he discovers that all the Christmas things are inexplicable absent.

A policeman arrives to investigate lights in the house and we learn that the house has been empty for several years since the family living there had all been killed by a flying bomb. The stockbroker is now a ghost.

He takes some convincing of this but eventually concedes that this is true.

His presence then causes all sorts of problems, not least for the Council who want to knock down the house and redevelop the area.

Priests and ghost hunters are consulted in an attempt to get the ghost to disappear.

There is a lot of humour but this is not Blithe Spirit and there is a edge to it too especially when we learn more about the ghost's past.

The play is a series of dialogues with the ghost receiving a number of different visitors each of whom has a different perspective on the situation from wanting to exploit him on the freak circuit to trying to understand why he came back.

Finally a visit from a neighbour puts the final piece in the jigsaw and the story comes to a natural and moving conclusion.

I enjoyed the whole thing immensely. I loved the characters from the calm ghost to the exasperated Home Office official, the mix of the light and the dark, the pace and ending of the story, and the simple but atmospheric set.

White Carnation was as elegant and as charming as a ghost in a dinner jacket.

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