As theatres close their doors once more, virtual theatre continues to blur the lines between stage and cinematic performance. The blend of recorded media with a theatrical delivery has shown to really enhance some pieces, providing a front row seat to every audience member – though sadly without most of the atmosphere you get from really being in the stalls.
Original Theatre Company have been successfully making online productions since the first lockdown, under the guise of Original Theatre Online. The company effectively uses greenscreen and virtual direction, which enables them to have the actors shoot the scenes themselves in their own homes. After the success of Apollo 13: Dark Side of the Moon in October, for which I felt Original had set a fantastic benchmark for the standard of online theatrical content, I was very excited to see what they would produce next.
Enter stage left – The Haunting of Alice Bowles.
The story is an adaptation, by Philip Franks, of M. R. James’ ghost story The Experiment. In the early 20th century, Alice Bowles, having just been widowed, is dealing with the death of her husband, his secrets, and his hidden fortune. Meanwhile in the present day, a pair of YouTuber’s are uncovering a long-forgotten mystery.
The production sets the tone very quickly, opening with a scene resembling something out of an episode of Ghost Hunters, as handheld cameras film shaky footage in poorly lit graveyards. Like all good thrillers, tension is built more in the suspense of what the characters are seeing and feeling rather than painting a full picture for the audience. The music also builds on the anticipation with an eerie ambience of dark vibrating tones. Sound effects, like the ticking of a clock, mimic the sound of a beating heart and instil a feeling of discomfort as you watch.
Both Tamzin Outhwaite and Stephen Boxer give superb performances as Alice Bowles and Dr Hall respectively, captivating the audience through eyes wizened with the troubles of their characters. Outhwaite’s experience in film and television clearly lends itself well to this style of delivery, whilst still maintaining a heightened performance in keeping with the other actors and the theatrical nature of the production. Surrounding the two are a very accomplished group of supporting performers who provide clearly defined characters, but sadly lacking the depth that one would expect of this calibre of production. As a result, a few of the scenes seem slightly forced and unconvincing.
The cinematography and editing, by director of filming Tristan Shepherd, is mostly superb, especially given that a lot of it is filmed separately. But unlike other productions by Original, there are numerous points where the shots are poorly cut together. There is a wonderful scene where two actors look as though they are in a drawing room together, the image is clear and they seem to converse directly with each other. Yet, there is another scene on a boat where there is a thick black line between the two actors and their timing is entirely off and, unfortunately, the gaps between the dialogue destroy the pace of the scene.
For the most part this is a great production, a gripping tale of chilling horrors from beyond the grave. It is well written and suitably acted, but somewhere it falls short and comes across as rushed, taking away from the overall effect – which I’m sure would have been superb given more time. Unlike theatre, online bookings can more easily be pushed back, so it seems that adding a bit more time to the schedule would have been a huge asset to this piece.
The Haunting of Alice Bowles is streaming online until 28th February 2021. For more information and to book tickets, visit Original Theatre Online.
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