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Review: The Haunting of Blaine Manor at Stockport Plaza ‘lays fresh track on a well worn path’

The Haunting of Blaine Manor promises a night of traditional horror with some exciting twists and turns
The Haunting of Blaine Manor

Written & Directed by Joe O’Byrne, and winner of The Salford Star Best Play of the Year Award, The Haunting of Blaine Manor is a traditional Victorian Gothic Horror in the vein of M.R. James and Edgar Allen Poe.

It harkens back to the classic days of Universal and Hammer Horror cinema and the era of Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and Boris Karloff.

It’s a familiar set-up, so stop me if you’ve heard it before.

The Haunting of Blaine Manor at Stockport Plaza

A parapsychologist and sceptic, Dr Roy Earle, played with a Humphrey Bogart-style swagger by Peter Slater, is invited to a mysterious country estate, Blaine Manor, to participate in a séance.

Ever since the mysterious suicide of his wife due to an apparent haunting, the good doctor has made it his mission to investigate and debunk reports of paranormal activity wherever he goes and has made a bit of a name for himself doing so.

He is joined by a motley assortment of believers, including the eccentric psychic, Cairo (Andrew Yates), the fantastically named medium, Adolphus Scarabus (Jimmy Allen), and dogged journalist, Vivian Rutledge (Jo Haydock), whose research into the estate has unearthed occult connections that go back centuries.

Shortly after their arrival, however, the group are informed by the custodian of the estate, Vincent de Lambré (Ed Barry) of the cancellation of the séance due to the tragic death of the owner the night before.

To make matters worse, and in the tradition of the haunted house chiller, there is a terrible storm preventing them from leaving, forcing them to endure each other’s company overnight.

Throw into the mix a creepy shining-esque butler, Grady, played by Director, Joe O’Byrne, and all the pieces are in place to ensure that it’s a night they won’t soon forget.

What follows – at least in the first half – is a traditional whodunit, akin to Agatha Christie, focusing on the mysterious death of the owner.

However, in the second half, things really get weird with the play going all-in with its supernatural premise.

A supernatural second half

With its highly minimalist set design and modest lighting and sound effects, the production team do an admirable job of portraying the menace within the walls of the house and does so while avoiding the temptation to overwhelm the audience with excessive and disorienting lighting and sound effects.

Thunderclaps and lightning strikes rattle and illuminate the foundations of the cursed manor as the captive guests jump at shadows and creaking floorboards.

The clever projection of disembodied, ghostly voices through sound props also adds a note of tension that effectively frays the nerves of the guests throughout the night.

It’s all very effective and as a less-is-more approach, it pays off.

Or perhaps it is just making the most of what they had to work with. Either way, it has the desired effect of conjuring up the desired atmosphere of dread and horror that enables the house itself to take on a character of its own.

Free of any expectations of meta-horror, and subverted expectations that so often go hand-in-hand with modern attempts at the horror genre: The Haunting of Blaine Manor is about as traditional a horror story as can be imagined.

The tropes come thick and fast and an audience with modern sensibilities will find little to be scared by.

Unexpected twists and turns

But to its credit, it throws an interesting and unexpected twist at the end.

As a celebration of the foundational bricks and mortar that paved the way for the modern state of horror, there is a lot to enjoy here.

With a runtime of just under two hours, it also never outstays its welcome and maintains a steady pace throughout with the drama coming thick and fast in the closing act.

By modern standards, it is truly a gentle evening of horror, but thanks to a well-executed twist at the end, it manages to lay some fresh track along a very worn and familiar path.

Tickets for The Haunting of Blaine Manor

The Haunting of Blaine Manor was only on for one night – but you can check out what other awesome new shows the Stockport Plaza have on by visiting their website here

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