Let’s see: an alchemist receives a bad book review and enacts his revenge by first driving the reviewer mad and then making him commit suicide. This does not look good for me. Luckily there are many positive things to say about this adaptation of the classic ghost story by M.R.James. It proves to be an entertaining yet fittingly chilly hour with Gothic undertones and some excellent acting by the proficient duo Noel Byrne and Antonia Christophers.
Casting the Runes tells the story of Professor Edward Dunning, master of all things supernatural.
Casting the Runes tells the story of Professor Edward Dunning, master of all things supernatural. He is approached by Rebecca Harrington, whose brother is killed in the aforementioned review incident. Soon Professor Dunning’s scepticism towards unworldly forces is put to the test as he too receives a note with runic lettering from the deranged alchemist. We get to witness Dunning’s slow ascent to madness as he begins to experience supernatural occurrences around him.
Noel Byrne gives a great performance as Professor Dunning while Antonia Christophers single-handedly tackles all the other parts. She proves to be a highly versatile and convincing actress. The intimate setting of The Burrow (Fishermen’s Vestry in St Paul’s Church) is perfect for this play together with a stone fireplace, heavy medieval doors, a huge wooden crucifix and old library items. In fact, the production could have made better use of these surroundings. I found their use of cheap cardboard doors and boxes a bit off-putting, especially since the door is such a central feature in the play: a symbol of the evil that lurks just outside of our vision.
I suppose no horror play can escape the comparison to the West End classic Woman in Black. Even after a decade from seeing it, that empty rocking chair still haunts me. Casting the Runes uses some of the same tricks to its advantage, such as the recurring lullaby, puppetry, well placed sound effects and clever visual effects. It does not reach the same level of intensity though, but then again the story is more a supernatural thriller than actual horror. All in all, everyone in the room seemed to enjoy the play – though they were clearly pleased to leave the creepy surroundings behind. I too made a hasty exit without any runes in my possession. As far as I know.