Wood-paneled walls? Country estate? Tragic past? Stormy Night? Yes, we have all the ingredients for a classic ghost story.
To pare Bracken Moor down to a provider of shocks more unexpected than those of a maverick defibrillator is to do it a disservice. Those big jump moments are, in fact, a rarity. The latest play from Alexi Kaye Campbell, whose debut play The Pride won an Olivier Award, is set in 1937 and both echoes today’s austerity-led concerns and delves into notions of love and parenting. Like all good thrill rides it saves a couple of twists and jolts to lift your stomach into your mouth at the end.
The moor of the title – a desolate windswept place, I imagine, though we never see it – is the setting, the audience soon learns, for a son’s tragic death. A decade later his parents are reunited with the boy’s best friend and his family, a reconciliation that wakes memories and ghosts.
That best friend, Joseph Timms’ Terence, is now in his early 20s, brimming with youthful confidence and self-belief. Having travelled open-mindedly to different cultures rather than finishing his Oxford degree, on an ideological level he butts headlong into the dead boy’s father.
For that father, Daniel Flynn’s Harold, a calculating, mine owning businessman, the world is black and white, right and wrong. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to suggest the slow, cold, dark and loveless manner of the boy’s death – I’m trying not to give too much away here, but this is no real secret and the show revels in exposition – reflects his paternal relationship.
Helen Schlesinger brings the desolation of the moor to mother Elizabeth, trapped in grief for a decade with no-one to offer any understanding of what she is going through or the means to relieve it. As events unfold, feelings and compassion face off against callous objectivity and emotionless safety. It is all a little Scrooge-like, but with more horror and less Christmas cheer.
Director Polly Teale keeps the action as taut as it can be with so much back story to explain and philosophical discussion to fit in. Tom Piper’s set, dominated by a huge murky window overlooking proceedings, is the perfect interior of a haunted country mansion where the past is terrifying and the future doesn’t promise much better.