Review: Oh Whistle – an enduring and spine-tingling one man show at Tobacco Factory Theatres

4-stars8th March 2016

Image: Shelagh Bidwell

Image: Shelagh Bidwell

Oh Whistle is an exceptional one man show by Nunkie Theatre, performed at the Tobacco Factory Theatre on Sunday. Robert Lloyd Parry brought to life two ghost stories by MR James, and indeed James seemed resurrected also in this vivid performance.

In two short acts Parry, on stage in a single arm chair lit only by candle light, took the audience back in time to the late 1800s and early 1900s when MR James was originally writing.

Parry told the stories as though he were James, occasionally he took on the character he was speaking of. Not so often that it felt erratic, but enough to create a very singular character, one of an eccentric academic with a passion for detail.

Each act told a different ghost story, the first harking back to the times of the witch trials, and the second made reference the archaeology of the Knights Templar. James was a respected medieval scholar at Kings College, Cambridge and Eton College.

The storyline of each tale was simple and the narrative sped forward at quite a pace, meandering only to provide a little colour to the scene. There were limited physical props with which the story was told, and very clever use was made of the candle light and shadows it casted. Especially at the end of the first act, when Parry held up his hand to completely obscure his face.

To maintain the character so strongly throughout was incredible to watch, and the performance alone was worth seeing. No matter that the stories were uncomplicated, this was a historical piece in a way. Showing a time when ghost stories would have been told by candle light as a form of entertainment, and they lived up to expectations by sending an audible shudder round the room at times.

Parry created a character that could have just as easily stepped out of a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle book, it was a very clever way to present the stories in such a simple but atmospheric way, with absolute economy.

Jess Lewes

The show will continue to be toured by Parry and Nunkie Theatre, dates can be found on their website.