The Haunting of Alice Bowles is a supernatural thriller by Philip Franks, adapted for Original Theatre Company from the M.R. James short ghost story, The Experiment: A New Year’s Eve Ghost Story. This is the company’s fourth original online production since theatres were closed by the Government in March this year and it stars Tamzin Outhwaite, Max Bowden, Stephen Boxer, Jack Archer, Robert Mountford, Poppy Roe and Tim Treloar.
The story follows two strands: In 1918, where the titular Alice Bowles (Tamzin Outhwaite) is a widow (seemingly due to then ongoing Spanish Flu epidemic) seeking to find the money left by her late husband Francis. The second strand is contemporary and follows YouTube urban explorers Matt and Caitlin uncovering a mysterious grave in an abandoned churchyard.
Both settings are at least partly additions to the adaptation. In the story, the 1918 is an unspecified point in the past during a Bubonic plague outbreak, while the 2020 YouTube-and-Covid setting is, of course, a complete fabrication, MR James having died about 80 years before any of that would happen.
Apart from fleshing out an admittedly short story, the latter was added to make more explicit the plague parallel to today. In this it is successful, though one might question if an entire new storyline was necessary to achieve this aim. The result does stick out somewhat, not just in the change of tone and time which mostly works, but in being generally overdone: as well as putting the “Spanish Flu is Covid” into literal dialogue, it also over-explains the new characters relationships in a way which stretches the found-footage format adopted by this part of the show: one can’t avoid noticing how conveniently the couple argue and break up when the camera is on, and wondering whether a less-dialogue heavy approach or a less contrived format might not have been preferable.
The quibble over the writing of one section aside, the show does wonders with its limitations. The production values are very high, with the only indication of the times being the comparative dearth of shots with more than one character in frame with another. As such, the focus is always on the characters and the actors, who shot most of their footage in isolation and on green-screen, are all very good, conjuring atmosphere and depth for all their scenes, often assisted only by a backdrop and some flickering light. Whether you are an M.R James fan leaping at the chance to see a previously un-adapted work of his, a fan of this company’s previous slick work or just in the mood for some theatrical ghost, this show should work for you, even in a sea of seemingly similar “lockdown plays”.
Available to watch online until 28th February 2021 at https://originaltheatreonline.com/productions/8/the-haunting-of-alice-bowles
Reviewer: Oliver Giggins
Reviewed: 16th December 2020
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★