There are more than costumes lurking back-stage at Hampton Hill Theatre as a few remnants of the industry’s past refuse to allow their memories to go uncelebrated – unlike their successful rivals.
J.J. Leppink’s At The Ghost Light serves as a parallel of sorts, as Elizabethan superstar Will Kemp and music hall legend Nelly Power lament the closing of theatres due to some form of ‘plague’. As the two take a short tea break amidst the dusted props and antiquity, the pair form a venomous bond over their shared frustrations with those they deem unworthy of robbing their good fortune, throwing out a couple of names that should sound familiar: William Shakespeare and Marie Lloyd.
Constructed from the remnants of Blue Fire Theatre’s biographical productions, Kemp’s Jib and Marie Lloyd Stole My Life, bringing the two leads together delivers charming references both theatre and comedy lovers will be delighted by. The production’s charm comes from its stars, Steve Taylor and Lottie Walker, who share strong chemistry with neither stealing attention from the other.
Fizzing to the brim, Taylor’s Will Kemp is the more put-out of the pair, envious of his pal ‘Will Shakebags’ and his success in using lockdown to write a new play about a leering King. True to form, Taylor seems uncomfortable sitting still, displaying Kemp’s need to prove himself, make an impact and get back on the stage.
Subdued, Walker’s take on Nelly Power is closer to the ‘straight’ performer – she’s the sarcastic one, drawing on her comedic background to throw punches at Kemp. Within Power’s character, Leppink’s writing gains the ability to take a look at the real plague of the theatre: the snobbery that sees the industry lifting its nose towards comedy, musical theatre and variety acts.
With a love of the stage, At The Ghost Light struggles to grasp the medium of film, as the digital production’s staging and editing leave much to be desired. Far from off-putting, Michael Bishop’s simple filming sticks to focusing on the performance; unfortunately, the editing makes for too many quick cuts and angle changes.
At The Ghost Light is a quaint reminder that while the stages are empty, a few spirits maintain life in the theatres. It serves as a reminder of the tough times theatres have faced, survived and powered through in the past – let’s just pray they can pull another trick out of the wings.