On a dark and stormy night at the Fringe, Will Seaward's Spooky Midnight Ghost Stories will warm your cockles rather than chill you to the bone.
This is altogether giddy good fun, and has the audience shrieking like ghosts.
Seaward himself is spellbinding and instantly endearing: Booming and bombastic, he bounds about like the lovechild of Brian Blessed and Jonathan Creek, all velvet, vocals and mad, mad hair. Throughout the hour he bewitches his audience with a truly impressive range of vocal intonation and a face that is unusually elastic: eyes flash wide and frowns seem to reach to the ground in a manner that perfectly marries the melodramatic and surreal elements of the show.
The stories themselves are inventive and often incredibly funny. Seaward is hardly concerned with consistency and few of the tales make much narrative sense. Rather, twists and turns are furnished by off-the-wall wordplay and non-sequitur: What appear to be cobweb lattices at one moment become cobweb lettuces in another; seafarers spot giant plates of "lamb ahoy" upon the waves. Such oddball stories are studded with sections of audience participation - we learn to tie fishermen's bends and a number of us are invited onstage to go gravedigging (in a tiny tupperware box full of soil). This is altogether giddy good fun, and has the audience shrieking like ghosts.
There is a problem, however, with such heteroclite horror stories. The fact that narratives can spin off in any direction means that following them becomes both difficult and undesirable. Formlessness becomes a bit boring over the course of the hour, which plays out like a long list of odd images. This structural drawback is underscored by Seaward's decision to bookend the show with a single story, split into two readings. Whilst tension is ostensibly generated by leaving the tale on a "cliffhanger" midway through, the fact that it is essentially just a big bundle of nonsense means there is no sense of peril, no urgency to return to the reading at the end.
Seaward also tends toward an overreliance on metacommentary during his performance - frequently noting that the book from which he reads has no words in it, or the fact that his portable graveyard is (shock! horror!) homemade. Whilst noting such shoddiness helps add to his bats-in-the-belfry bizarreness, it also undermines his conceit for too easy a comic payoff.
Will Seaward's Spooky Midnight Ghost Stories manages to spirit away the witching hour. Even if it’s haunted by a few structural issues, it's a ghoulishly good laugh.