The Poltergeist of Cock Lane

Putney Light Operatic Society are bringing a famous English haunting back from the dead with their new musical The Poltergeist of Cock Lane, composed by Steven Geraghty and written by Tim Connery. In this show of comedy and drama, the unscrupulous money-grabber Richard Parsons is making a fortune by inviting visitors to witness the supernatural occurrences in his home on Cock Lane. As news of the poltergeist travels far and wide, it is discovered that this ghost has a tragic past she is only too willing to share, leading to a startling arrest and a mind-blowing court case based on the evidence of a ghost (a unique occurrence in legal history). Through the clever direction of Damian Sandys, PLOS have successfully injected this historic event with humour and song to create a fun and captivating show that still offers a cold chill to the spine.

Cleverly spans many different styles and genres, including gothic romance, comedy and the good old-fashioned victorian ghost story. In short, there’s something for everyone.

Right from the opening, Alex Dee boldly owns the stage as Richard Parsons. His grotesque characterisation of this evil man proves enthralling throughout the performance. Whilst the chorus around him are certainly in fine voice, they come just short of delivering the frantic hustle and bustle of 18th century London. However, their presence on stage is particularly powerful during the communications with the poltergeist, which had me on the edge of my seat. Particular members of the chorus shine, including Rhoda Green in her brief yet hilarious role as Carrots, a VERY reluctant witness in the court. I also enjoyed Joe Beecroft’s role as the plucky jailer, committed his grim job.

Geraghty’s score delivers some fantastic tunes that keep the production pacing and lively. The first summoning of the ghost is a particularly interesting and humorous number. Not all the music is as memorable and some songs become a little repetitive. However, vocal performances across the cast are consistently strong, particularly from Rachel Kitchen as Elizabeth Parsons. Her solo in the courthouse conveys movingly the character's pain of being used as ‘bait’ to lure the poltergeist into communication with the living.

Sandys’ ‘less is more’ staging decision is effective and the story moves seamlessly between different corners of London. The black and white backdrop of the city furthers the timely sense of location. However, even less could have been even more as too many black boxes sometimes leave the stage feeling over-cluttered and unnecessary.

Overall, PLOS have certainly brought flair and originality to the Fringe. Their musical cleverly spans many different styles and genres, including gothic romance, comedy and the good old-fashioned victorian ghost story. In short, there’s something for everyone. 

Reviews by Carla van der Sluijs

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The Blurb

A grieving widower, a drunken landlord and a dead wife unite together for a murder trial. A new musical based on infamous hauntings taking place in London between 1761 and 1762, the only time in legal history that a man was charged with murder based on evidence given by a ghost. Part black comedy, part supernatural mystery and part Gothic romance, this is a musical journey into the crazed heart of 18th-century London. Bizarre, dark, funny and moving, The Poltergeist of Cock Lane investigates one of the strangest corners of real London lore.

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