Undoubtedly the concept is solid. But the title suggests a link to the amazing political and social backstory of the halls, built by fascinating Victorian inventor and philanthropist William F. Stanley.. Its rich history includes being a first-aid teaching centre in the war, a music hall that once hosted Shirley Bassey, a meeting place for the suffragettes. Surely you could dredge up something to fill 45 minutes out of the 123 years of history? Instead, the experience is more ghost’s in Stanley hall with us wondering through the interiors of this old building, viewing 3 different pieces.
Welcomed by a demented secretary (played by Chris Rogers) we are thrust into a dark ballroom and initiated into the Stanley Halls Murder Society. Rogers does his best with Olu Alakija’s rather repetitive script and the performance has moments of chills thanks to his characterisation.
Next, we tramp upstairs into an antic room with large mirrors and rather unnecessary clanking chains in the corner (considering the story never mentions chains). Nice to See You Again sees Rosie Edwards playing Kitty, a girl confronted by a ghost from her past in a very everyday setting. This modern tale is well written by Zoe Miller but seems rather out of place in the cavernous space, although the apparition of the ghost (Brandon Thorne) is a highlight.
Through winding tunnels and behind the venue’s cinema screen we see two rooms with vignettes designed to curdle the blood. Again, the architecture does more than the makeup and lights can manage.
Lastly, we are led down into the basement for a Queen of Sheba International Devised piece Dagdheer. The room looks like a wine or beer cellar with pipes crisscrossing the walls, filled with smoke; this is, without doubt, the most terrifying space. Kemi Hassan is a Janitor telling the tale of a group of children and their brush with the child eating demon Dagdheer.
Overall Rachel Sampley’s lighting sets the mood wonderfully. Casting shadows and bravely using colour in the very different spaces. Alexander Broad’s sound helps with the task.
The spine-chilling moments are enhanced by the building they sit within and the whole experience does have merit. But it is confusingly sat squarely in-between children’s theatre and a full fright feast. Neither explicit enough to really scare us world-weary grown-ups or truly safe enough for sensitive young children (some of whom were cowering a little during the performance)
On this theme, the lack of a link to the historic building seems like a missed opportunity and maybe can be put down to having three different writers and two different directors. Although this would make a great family trip (for kids over 5/6ish) the whole experience feels rather disjointed and skin deep. Yet compared to sitting on my own crying at the lack of Halloween plans, exploring this wonderful space and getting into the spooky season was a joy I will happily take to my grave!
Written by: Olu Alakija, Zoe Miller, Queens of Sheba International
Directed by: Tom Brocklehurst, Tesni Kujore
Produced by: Tom Brocklehurst, Shukri Ibrahim, Lazaros Sitsanidis, Norman Murray