Tom Neenan: The Haunting at Lopham House

“What is it that frightens you?” Tom Neenan asks at the start of this one-man pastiche of an Edwardian ghost story. He introduces himself as a young widower by the name of Leopold Clark, who thinks of himself as a rational man and is ready (for both intellectual and financial reasons) to take on the challenge of investigating the apparently haunted Lopham House in Norfolk on behalf of its new owner, the ridiculously wealthy Lord Franklyn.

Entertaining enough, with some sound-effect inspired “jumps” to frighten those of a nervous disposition, this is an enjoyable enough way to spend an hour.

So far, so The Women in Black (sort of). As a writer however, Neenan is clearly in love with puns, word play and the occasional odd turns of phrase. He’s also familiar enough with the expected clichès of such a tale – the fractious locals, mysterious happenings and characters who turn out not to be what they seem – to have some fun playing with and against the audience's expectations.

To be honest however, Neenan's frequent reliance on getting laughs from words having multiple meanings, or on taking their meanings literally, becomes a tad wearisome after 15 minutes. It often feels as if a perceived metronomic demand for laughs forces him to include set ups for punchlines when there really is no narrative need for them. The occasional Eric Morecambe-style waggle of his spectacles notwithstanding, you might even wonder what point, if any, Neenan is trying to make here.

Making people laugh is obviously important in such a show, and Neenan is adept at anticipating the length of pause to accommodate an audience's laughter so that they don't miss anything important. Some of the funniest elements of the show come from the characters that he's created – confidently portrayed, it should be added, with Neenan using the most concise verbal and physical “ticks” to differentiate them from one another. Yet this doesn't detract from the fact that the most effective linguistic humour comes in those moments when his characters “accidentally” slip into using what can only be described as extremely post-Edwardian vocabulary.

Entertaining enough, with some sound-effect inspired “jumps” to frighten those of a nervous disposition, this is an enjoyable enough way to spend an hour. The show’s saving grace, however, comes right at the end: not because it’s all over, but because Neenan suddenly offers as an epilogue a character-based moment which is genuinely touching. 

Reviews by Paul F Cockburn

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The Blurb

When widower Leopold Clarke is sent to investigate sinister goings on at Lopham House he has no idea of the horrors that await him. Spines will be tingled and gooses bumped in this hilariously chilling, Edwardian ghost story from the acclaimed star of the Gentlemen of Leisure, and writer for Stand Up for the Week (Channel 4) and The News Quiz (Radio 4). 'Touched with genius' (Guardian). 'Gloriously entertaining ... a highlight of my Fringe ... a smart, funny show' ***** (Scotsman). 'A delight... a comic force not to be ignored' **** (Chortle.co.uk).

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