Theatre Review: The Curse of Elizabeth Faulkner (Charing Cross Theatre, London)

A fistful of fun. Neil Henry (left) and Josh Haberfield (right). Photograph: courtesy of the production.

A fistful of fun. Neil Henry (left) and Josh Haberfield (right). Photograph: courtesy of the production.

Rating: ***

It’s getting very close to Halloween, and the Charing Cross Theatre is offering not one, but two ghostly goings on. If you happen to make it to Afraid of the Dark, then why not stay for the theatre’s later show, The Curse of Elizabeth Faulkner for some more light-hearted creeps as a show that sits somewhere halfway between The 39 Steps and The Woman in Black.

Following on from its success in Edinburgh, the late-night show makes it to London for a run through October right into the dank of November. Crossing farce with Grand Guignol, it’s a spritely little piece.

There are more than a few hilarious moments and Tim Downie’s writing balances creativity against the usual standard farce fare. Even though all the usual suspects are there, from battering down of the fourth wall to long running on-cue sound effect jokes, there are plenty of new and unexpected gags which really make the show. Downie also does a great job at knowingly penning this “budget” show, making nods to Martin Thomas’ bare essentials set, whilst director Anthony Coleridge makes good use of what isn’t there by filling the stage with action and imagination, despite there being only two boxes and four actors to play around with.

But like a lot of farce, it’s very difficult to either not descend into being too silly and/or let the comic pace drop too suddenly. Downie’s writing lets both of these happen in places, causing the show to drag a little. Also, a handful of the jokes are either a little too obscure or referential, meaning at points you know you’re supposed to be laughing but not quite sure why. But with the amount of original and strong material elsewhere means these never fatally mar the production.

The cast are also strong, including magician and According to Bex star Neil Henry, although he, Josh Haberfield, and Anil Desai wander into being a touch too over the top at times. But it’s fresh-out-of-acting school, Harriette Sym, who delivers her role with prefect comic tone and timing.

It does seem a little harsh to give this production only three stars, because it’s certainly above average. But when compared with some of the other long running comedy shows in London like One Man, Two Guvnors and The 39 Steps (from which it lovingly shares a few gags) it doesn’t quite measure up, although it’s not far off. But none the less, on a budget and for a late-night tickling of your funny bone, as far as comedy horror theatre goes this show is ghoulish, giggly, and goosey good fun.

The Curse of Elizabeth Faulkner runs at the Charing Cross Theatre, London, WC2N 6NL, until 23 November 2013. Tickets are £17.00. To book, visit www.charingcrosstheatre.co.uk.

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