REVIEW: Getting a fright at The Manor in Hemingford Grey
Let me first of all say – I’m not usually afraid of handkerchiefs.
But after attending Robert Lloyd Parry’s performance of the MR James short story Whistle and I’ll Come to You, I will baulk at spending a night in a room with an empty bed.
The sense of mystery that is Parry’s one-man tour de force at The Manor in Hemingford Grey begins from the moment you walk through the garden gate.
The Manor’s garden is full of shadows and an eerie calm. A printed notice on the door directs visitors to ‘Keep walking up the stairs until you meet people’ you find yourself ushered into what looks like someone’s lounge.
Except a few moments spent looking around and you quickly realise this is no ordinary living room. Ancient beams straddle overhead, the stone walls are unplastered, and a gramophone, like a giant conch dredged from the bottom of the sea, sits in the middle of the room.
The room is 900 years old. The house around it has been added to, destroyed, modified and rebuilt by successive generations – but the music room has stood as it is for centuries.
Then the electrics lights are turned off, candles are lit, and from the attic above a dark, hunched figure enters the room.
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Parry as the eminent Cambridge don MR James, takes a seat in the armchair at the front, pours himself a whisky, and proceeds to recount a story.
It is exactly how an audience would have first heard James’ stories. He used to read his stories aloud to his fellow scholars to provide an evening’s entertainment. It was only later he published them.
The Ash Tree begins with the trial of a peasant woman accused of witchcraft. Giving evidence against her is Sir Matthew Fell, the owner of Castringham Hall in Suffolk, who claims to have seen the wizened crone several times gathering twigs from the uppermost branches of his ash tree.
During the trial, the accused mutters repeatedly under her breath ‘There will be guests at the hall,’ and invariably, shortly after she is hanged, Sir Matthew is found dead in his bed – his body black and swollen.
The real highlight of the evening, for me, was Parry’s telling of Whistle and I’ll Come to You. It begins innocently enough. A fellow scholar, Professor Parkins, books a two-week stay at a hotel on the Norfolk coast.
While surveying a nearby Templars’ preceptory, he makes a discovery – a whistle which he pockets. Back at his hotel room, the professor notices the whistle has a Latin inscription - ‘Who is this who is coming?’
He blows it and immediately a wind begins to howl around the hotel, setting off a chain of events that brings the orderly and intellectually proud professor to the brink of madness.
Parry uses his voice, limited props, the candlelight and his own body to create effect, so much so a handkerchief wrapped around a fist, becomes the epitome of terror.
INFORMATION: Parry will be performing at The Manor House, Hemingford Grey on Friday, November 4, Saturday, November 5 and Sunday, November 6, as well as on Tuesday, December 20 and Wednesday, December 21. Doors open at 7.30pm for 8pm. Tickets �16 include a glass of wine and are available by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org