The Canterville Ghost

By Simran, Kamilla, Jia, Yylmaz and John

On the 9th of November, the Flying Banana Theatre & Studio put on memorable performance of ‘The Canterville Ghost’ by Oscar Wilde at Brookes Moscow. This was a charity performance and proceeds were donated to the Children’s Hospice (детскийхоспис.рф), which has two facilities in Moscow and St. Petersburg for medical and palliative support for children who are terminally ill.

The grand school hall was packed out for this performance with children and parents from various Moscow schools as well children from schools from as far away as Vologda.

The famous 19th century Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde would perhaps have liked most of what Flying Banana put on. But you may be wondering — what is The Canterville Ghost all about?

The story begins with Horace B. Otis, a rich American purchasing Canterville Chase, a very old English manor house, despite knowing and hearing warnings about the mansion being haunted. He moves into the house with his wife, daughter Virginia, son, and the Otis twins. Upon arrival, the family is shocked by a bloodstain in a sitting room. The housekeeper, Mrs. Umney explains that the stain has been there since around 1575 after Lady Eleanore de Canterville was brutally murdered by her husband, Sir Simon de Canterville. The Otis family takes a ‘sophisticated’ perspective and scrubs the stain away, and repeat the process when the stain continues to appear and appear every morning.

The stubborn reappearance of the stain, as well as other strange occurrences eventually brings the sceptical family round to believing in ghosts, something that is confirmed one night, when the sound of chains gets Mr. Hiram Otis out of bed only to encounter a terrifying ghost. Being an American (and this play is full of puns about the differences between Brits and Americans), he recommends that the ghost oils his chains so that he isn’t so noisy when clamouring around at night. The American is portrayed as a pragmatic, no-nonsense, positive sort of guy, but also as a lenient dad, since he makes no attempt to discipline his children for their misbehaviour. The twins also enjoying tormenting the ghost with their ignorance and pranks; they can get away with it.

The ghost is very proud of having terrified visitors for the past 300 years on end, and is determined to strike fear into the family. However, the more he tries, the more the family either ignores or makes fun of him. The ghost experiences a sort of after-life attack of the the blues and eventually accepts the fact that he has lost his status and power, and retreats away from the constant torments of the youngest twins. Meanwhile, Virginia’s charm and beauty has attracted the attention of the young duke of Cheshire who comes to stay. Virginia; brave and fearless also has a certain influence on the old ghost, for she is a budding artist and the nasty old ghost steals her bright paints, forcing her to paint dark and gloomy landscapes. She unexpectedly comes across the secret lair of the ghost. The ghost explains his sadness and suffering, telling her that he finally longs for peaceful death. He also tells her that because of her purity and innocence, she can help him to achieve this peace. Even though she is frightened, Virginia agrees to help, and prays for the forgiveness of his soul. The two of them pass through a secret opening in a wall and vanish into another dimension – and this is before the discovery of wormholes!

When Virginia cannot be found, her family and the Duke became very upset. A few hours later, Virginia appears in the dark at the top of the stairs. Her only explanation of her disappearance is that she has assisted in finally bringing eternal rest to the Canterville Ghost. The play is also a coming-of-age tale about a young girl on the verge of womanhood; and how she befriends her ‘enemy’ the ghost. This is also an eternal mystery play — ‘Love is stronger than death.’

As a token of his thanks and affection, Sir Simon gives her a box filled with jewels. Virginia leads the family into a secret chamber, where they are greeted by the sight of his skeletal remains. Four days later, Sir Simon’s body is finally laid to rest with a proper burial and at the end of the play Virginia marries the Duke of Cheshire.

A play with so many complex themes as this is not easy to stage, especially for a younger audience from a non-western culture. Flying Bananas, unperturbed by this seemingly impossible task, have risen to the task admirably and produced something unique. At times, however, some of the satire which Martin Cooke, Flying Banana’s director has introduced into Oscar Wilde’s masterpiece, was incomprehensible by the mostly Russian audience. Nevertheless, the use of comic mime, right from the first few minutes is well executed, and goes a long way to bridge the gap between cultures.

This slapstick production is designed to entertain young children, which it did, and is not intended to be a serious interpretation of Wilde’s short story, originally published in 1887. The director’s technique appears to be focussing in on a few scenes, such as trying to scrub the blood out of a carpet, and attributing these scenes with full tragic-comic details through brilliant mime, words and song. The upbeat rhythm of the production kept the audience on the peak of expectation, with really quite brilliant musical scenes such as a dialogue in rap between Virginia and the ghost.

All the flying bananas on stage that we saw acted well, however Virginia was played brilliantly. Linguistically, English speakers in the audience were presented with an array of accents – from ‘posh’ English, to American English to what seemed like a German accent from the ghost. In all, the performance was spirited, even hilarious for those who understood what was going on. Credit should also be given to the intrepid musicians who drove the show along, and of course, the two wonderful guests from Sesame Street. Thank you Flying Banana and Brookes for pulling this off. It couldn’t have been easy.

Pavel Tkachenko, the Director of the charitable fund ‘Children’s Hospice’, is the guest speaker at Brookes whole school assembly on Wednesday 20th November at 08:30. We invite parents to come and hear him speak about the charity.

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