The Doubtful Guest (3 stars)

This article is from 2009.

The Doubtful Guest

That Hoipolloi’s staging of the Edward Gorey fable is entertainingly done is without question. It is not only an adaptation of this story about a pointy-faced creature in white canvas shoes who takes residence in a grand country mansion, but also an imaginative improvisation around it.

We see nothing of Gorey’s thing that goes bump in the night – and, for that matter, in the day – but we see an awful lot of the tremulous Edwardian family who are disconcerted by its arrival. Driven to despair by their own politeness, they have become a bunch of helpless neurotics, hardly able to get to the end of a sentence without apologising for their own existence.

With a meta-theatrical twist, the production, written and directed by Shôn Dale-Jones, brings Gorey’s mischievous creature into the wings, while the hapless characters explain the nuts and bolts of their story-telling technique to the audience. There’s a touch of the mechanicals in A Midsummer Night’s Dream who ‘come not to offend’, as the Bishop family show us their props and talk us through the story as if we too are likely to be spooked out by their creepy tale.

The show is all false starts – and, indeed, false endings – which serve to pad out a slim story and sprinkle it with comedy. It’s as much a show about a group of people putting on a play as it is about the play itself. With interruptions, forays into the audience and disturbances from the doubtful guest himself, the production has an amusingly shambolic atmosphere and a clutch of good jokes.

That’s fine, as far as it goes, but it also feels like a completely unnecessary piece of work, one that exists in an arts-centre bubble, making no connection with the outside world and no reflection on life as it is lived. It is fun, well done and irrelevant.

Traverse Theatre, 228 1404, until 30 Aug, times vary, £16–£18 (£11–£12).

The Doubtful Guest

  • 3 stars

Edward Gorey's deliciously dark comic tale is brought vividly to life by award-winning Hoipolloi. When a mischievous creature arrives, causing havoc and mayhem, the whole world tips upside down. 'Comic sinister atmosphere brilliantly achieved' (Guardian).

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