Evoking the dark, Dickensian, rain-drenched town of Tumblewater single-handed, with all its grim goings-on is quite a feat, but Teasel Theatre’s atmospheric production hit the fear funny bone. Children in the audience squirmed and hid their faces in their parents’ sleeves, as Edward Jaspers filled the dark stage with grotesques, witches and monsters.
Jaspers dodges the horrors of Tumblewater in the person of engaging orphan Daniel Dorey, who arrives as a trainee surgeon, searching for his lost sister Maria, but is quickly beset by all kinds of skulduggery. ‘Trust no one, always carry a weapon, leave as soon as you can’, Dorey is warned.
Based on the novel by Bruno Vincent (nominated for the 2010 Waterstone’s Children’s Book Awards), Jaspers evokes a community gripped by fear, terrorised by shadowy villain Caspian Prye, and his thuggish police force, who have driven all opposition underground.
The head of the Resistance, the urbane, dashing UNCLE protects Dorey from constant police pursuit, while the bewildered orphan is sheltered and betrayed by the town’s inhabitants, in rapid succession – but not before each character tells Dorey a spine-tingling tale.
With no more than a torch, a top hat and a step ladder to hand, Jaspers varies the pace and mood with aplomb. He joshed with the audience, skilfully moderating the melodrama when a child on the front row’s lower lip began to wobble, and he crept under his sister’s arm. The music of Jaspers’ mandolin and tin whistle, and his pleasant singing voice also softened the grimness of the tales.
The show’s dark. It’s certainly grisly. The story of the baby, the coverlet and the oven was genuinely disturbing. The simple lighting gave light and shade: pitch black torchlit suspense, and a bright morning ray of hope and reconciliation.
There were marvellous moments of comedy: the MegaStageCoach with its laconic driver’s announcements, the frenzied excitement of the race commentator, the search for the Chief Inspector’s box.
It’s fun, it's fast and it's furious – with all the deliciousness of diving behind the sofa when the Daleks appear on screen. You want more. You know you do. The children in the audience screamed and laughed with equal gusto.