One could be forgiven for expecting Trespass by Emlyn Williams to turn out to be a dated pot-boiler in a hackneyed genre: phoney spiritualist medium rips off gullible, wealthy woman who can’t cope with her husband’s recent death.
But the play turns out to be anything but such a spoof. On the contrary, it was probably ahead of its time in 1947 by tackling challenging aspects of morbid obsession and taboo sexuality.
To reveal more about the moral unravelling in Act II would be to spoil the harrowing dénouement. Suffice it to say this work is very far from being a rehash of Noel Coward’s séance frolic, Blithe Spirit, which debuted six years earlier.
I’m no great expert in the history of censorship, but I suspect it would have been impossible for Williams to get a full-on exploration of his core theme past the Lord Chamberlain in 1947; so he cleverly snuck it through, disguised as a popular séance romp. Even thus softened, one feels it might have shocked audiences.
In this production, a talented cast all contribute energetically to breathing new life into an old script.
I particularly enjoyed a succession of spooky monologues in which various characters relate having undergone strange experiences; and I loved the slightly OTT deliveries of these.
Michelle Morris as the widowed Countess Christine conveys the polished bossiness which one expects of that social class, both verbally and physically, as if she had herself been born into the aristocracy.
Jeremy Lloyd Thomas commands the stage charismatically as the tormented medium Saviello.
Rebecca Wheatley’s larger-than-life Mrs Amos brushes away all snobbery in the Big House with her down-to-earth northern exuberance.
David Callister as the psychic researcher, Dewar, after learning by chance of the secret at the heart of the story, takes us with him on a journey into darkness as he morphs desperately from chirpy enthusiast into a kind of latterday male Jocasta, striving in vain to prevent the unthinkable from being revealed.
What that secret is, you will have to find out by going to see the play. I thoroughly recommend that you do so.
(I saw ‘Trespass’, produced by Talking Scarlet, at the Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne, on Saturday 17 June 2017)