There’s an elegant simplicity to A Trilogy Of Horrors: Volume II, which sits in the borderland between storytelling and theatre. It’s a back-to-back series of three solo monologues, each adapted from a short story by a famous author; they’re delivered in character and in costume, but with the focus firmly on the words. While the three tales can broadly be described as ‘horror’, the piece aims for spine-tingles more than outright scares, and there’s even room at times for a little warming humour.
We’re welcomed into the room by Connor Jones: a reassuring, professorial figure, resplendent in bow-tie and shapeless cardigan. Addressing us like children gathered for story-time, he recounts the tale of The Ebony Frame. This story was originally penned by E Nesbit of Railway Children fame, though in common with all three pieces, it’s been given a fairly free-handed makeover.
The story itself is the thinnest of the trilogy, but Jones makes up for that through his humorous delivery. There’s a lot here to enjoy: the narrator’s delight at fresh love, his disdain for polite chatter, his glossing of the raunchier details for the benefit of younger ears. It feels like a true story – told in the here and now – and imbued with wistfulness at things that might have been. And it ends with a punchline which you won’t find in Nesbit’s original, but which draws a lovable character study to a perfect close.
Next comes a scene from The Invisible Man, a story we all feel we know, but which I at least have never actually read. This time the narrator is played by Imogen Brabant – a switch of gender compared to HG Wells’ original, subtly changing the balance of power between the unwilling host and her unseen visitor.
Scientific curiosity runs through the storyline, and there’s some fascinating discussion of what making your body invisible would actually mean. But at heart this is a morality tale, and Brabant deftly takes us on a journey from intrigue, through fear, to shock at a horror she still can’t see. It’s a well-chosen scene from a much longer novel, and the bold abridgement by and large works.
The final piece is the most dramatic, and most clearly attuned to the horror theme. Based on The Music Of Erich Zann by HP Lovecraft, it’s a tale of hidden terrors and forbidden knowledge, narrated by a young academic in a timeless corner of France. The adaptation respectfully mixes Lovecraft’s original text with the company’s own writing, and narrator Erin Elkin duly paints an evocative picture of a seeming idyll that hides a devastating reality.
Lovecraft’s work doesn’t always translate well to the stage, but the storytelling vibe suits this piece well. Elkin plays her character with eloquence and confidence, but occasionally the remembered horror pokes through; she’s expressive, reaching out towards us, coaxing us into the world of the story and the nightmare that ensues. A neat linguistic trick delicately conveys the encroachment of madness, and there’s a clever intricacy to the reworked monologue which builds to a genuinely exciting conclusion.
Each of these three stories stands on its own, but they’re also crafted to work as a group – with the fireside calmness of the first piece yielding to a crescendo of action in the final one. Despite its ‘horror’ billing, this isn’t just a show for the stout of heart, but an approachable and highly enjoyable adaptation of three classic tales. The most horrible thing is that it’s only here for a week… catch it in that time if you can.
This review is of A Trilogy Of Horrors: Volume II. Last year’s show, A Trilogy Of Horrors: Volume I, is also returning to the Scottish Storytelling Centre this week.