I’ve just got back from an incredible experience. Sitting here, in my Sky Bunker, my senses are only partially attentive to the glow of electric lights, the deep red of my lava lamp and several occasional lamps around the large room; the stereo is on but it’s just background noise for company up here in this isolated part of the house. Really, my brain is still in the fabricated late 19th Century world of M.R.James. To the point that when I finish this blog post I’m going to head back down two flights of stairs, light candles in antique brass holders, drink some red wine and maybe play one of the collection of Lovecraft and M.R. James audio stories I have.
The production took place at the Tobacco Factory Theatre, in Bristol.
Walking in I was confronted by a very sparse set placed in the middle of rows of seats for the audience. A very intimate setting. No stage. No barriers. The lights were so low they were almost off. My friend and I grabbed two seats at the very front, no more than five metres from the ensemble of high-backed leather armchair, occasional table cluttered with books, marble bust, crystal decanter half filled with whiskey and a candelabra holding three candles; their flames created a small pool of warm illumination but also deepened the shadows around the set. My friend and I spent about five minutes watching folks walking in or staring at the set. Abruptly, with a start, I realised there was somebody sitting in the armchair with a brown shawl over their head and top half of their body. And the show hadn’t even started yet.
The lights, what there were, dimmed into total darkness and the show began with the seated actor lifting away the shawl, revealing a comedy moment that had everyone chuckling warmly. I don’t want to spoil it. It’s a very well thought out production.
The actor was wonderful. Slotted into the role of a jowly, sanguine-faced academic, narrating second-hand stories that he had heard. The actor nailed the retelling almost bang on word for word: no mean feat.
Sitting there, being rapidly drawn into his world of shadows and spine-tingling dread, I felt a little like I’d entered the scene of one of my favourite horror films; John Carpenter’s The Fog – the scene at the very beginning when the wizened old sea dog is telling a bunch of young children spooky ghost stories around a campfire. I’ve always adored the idea of that kind of scene taking place in my life. And now here I was.
The two tales he chose to narrate to us were:
If you’re not familiar with M.R.James or have only heard of him but never indulged, then I can’t stress more highly enough how amazingly rich and chilling his short tales are. He’s possibly the greatest horror writer of his period and undoubtedly influenced many of the greatest writers of the eerie and macabre.
A PLEASING TERROR:
TWO GHOST STORIES BY M R JAMES
Performed by Robert Lloyd Parry
***** Wonderful, magical storytelling. A pleasing reminder that the spoken word can be as spine-chilling as anything in the cinema . . . The Daily Mail
This critically acclaimed one-man show is an atmospheric retelling of two of the earliest and greatest tales by M R James – the master of the English ghost story.
In Canon Alberic’s Scrap-book, a young Cambridge antiquary discovers the devil in the details of an old book in a medieval town in the French Pyrenees… In The Mezzotint a ghoulish revenge is enacted within a work of art, before the helpless eyes of a museum curator in Oxford . . .
A Pleasing Terror has been performed over 100 times since premiering in M R James’ old office in the Fitzwilliam Museum in December 2005. Many performances have been in venues closely associated with the author: Eton College, Great Livermere Church in Suffolk, the Fitzwilliam Museum, and the Provosts Lodge and Chapel of King’s College, Cambridge.
A Pleasing Terror was nominated for the 2006 Dracula Society Hamilton Deane Award.
Suitable for ages 13+
Performance lasts approx 100 minutes including interval.
WARNING: CONTAINS MOMENTS OF PLEASING TERROR