[The following contains spoilers.]
There is a scene from the classic sitcom Fawlty Towers in which the hotel proprietor Basil Fawlty demands from his nagging wife, “Anything else? I mean, would you like the hotel moved a bit to the left?” Perhaps this single quip has come to furnish the entire plot of Steve Yockey’s “Very Still and Hard to See.” An American architect (Stevie Hughes) is surveying the site of his next hotel when he tumbles down a sinkhole. At the bottom he meets an Obake, or shapeshifting demon (Julie Binysh). If he relocates his hotel to cover her hole, then he can have his deepest, darkest wish fulfilled.
The hotel seems to have been moved purely in order to make it more convenient and accessible for Obake’s invading cronies. A succession of amusing incidents befalls the new hotel and its hapless guests are generally terrorised. I should point out that this play is not really inspired by Fawlty Towers: Yockey has found all of his monsters within Japanese folk stories, and essentially issued them with American visas.
“Very Still…” is playing at Greenside, the church tucked behind Calton Hill. The play is advertised as “new writing,” but it has been actually performed prior to the Fringe (in 2012) by a Los Angeles theatre company. It has been brought to Greenside by BeLT Productions, who are related in some way to Bromley Little Theatre.
“Very Still…” plumps for the same tactic as this year’s production of “Little Foot” in surrounding the blundering characters on stage with a Greek chorus of apparently-unseen ghouls. The chorus resemble huge khaki maggots (like the creatures in LF), but their antics are too stiffly choreographed to really make the flesh creep. At first it seems like a mistake to perform the play with American accents, or rather Hollywood ones, since they are always very slightly out of tune. Yet there is actually some logic to this gamble. English ghosts have a long and distinguished literary heritage, and we have come to expect a certain sophistication from them. With American accents we can cut straight to the world of the urban myth, where quirky, unexpected things happen to generic characters. The resultant vignettes are liberated from irony or even any great significance at all.
I was not wholly convinced by Binysh as Obake, but then I cannot think of any actress who has played the/a devil with the necessary charisma. Although this production sought to bypass cliché by presenting a mysterious and understated demon, Obake merely looked like an exuberant teacher when she was dominating the squirming architect. Pauline Armour was a hoot as the twinkly-eyed murderess Edith; Tamsin Fellowes was equally spectacular during the farcical scene in a runaway lift; whilst Debbie Griffiths supplied the necessary anguish as the housewife who discovers a bottomless hole in her kitchen floor.
Murder and mayhem are fun but paedophilia is not. The story’s increased interest in darker themes was actually a distraction. They did not spoil the play, but neither did they contribute anything greater to it. Yockey may have been worried that his play was becoming so much fun that it was in danger of attracting family audiences.