Theatre Review: CASTING THE RUNES – Waterside Arts, Sale

Designed to frighten and delight in equal measure, CASTING THE RUNES is an excellent retelling of the M.R. James’ supernatural thriller.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Adapting a classic story is always a tightrope; adhere too closely, and the play runs the risk of being slow-paced; adapt too much, and you lose the essence. Pleasingly, Box Tale Soup’s retelling of the classic M.R. James’ story CASTING THE RUNES hits the audience note perfect.

The supernatural tale concerns Professor Duning (Noel Byrne) and Harrington (Antonia Christophers) and their cat-and-mouse games with the mysterious Kaswell, a catalyst of supernatural intent. The audience is taken along this journey into the realms of ancient witchcraft with ease, and both central actors are exquisitely precise in their ability to convey the increasing mental anguish this causes.

Ancillary characters are portrayed by puppets; however, it is to the credit of both Byrne and Christophers that these puppets do not feel like puppets but real people. Their design and construction, done by the theatre company themselves, take on a life of their own, and it is hard to regard them as props but rather as members of the cast.

The same can be said for the very clever set, which is moved with balletic precision by Byrne and Christophers and which is adapted and re-used in a convincing manner. For a striped back set, this is an achievement in itself as each scene is created with minimum furniture, and yet as a consequence of the good storytelling of the play again the audience is fully convinced of the impending horror. This, along with clever use of audio to augment and reinforce the narrative and excellent stage lighting, all combine for a fully immersive experience for the audience, and certainly, during this performance, there were many times when you could have heard a pin drop such was the concentration of the audience.

All in all, this is an excellent retelling of the M R. James story; designed to frighten and delight in equal measure and very well performed as a two-handed version. The acting was excellent when it could so easily have gone over into pastiche in other hands and the whole performance was a paranormal box of delights tied up in a bow for the audience to devour.

Box Tale Soup are currently touring this production until December, and it makes for an atmospheric and timely evening in autumn and a reminder that maybe we are not alone all the time.

CASTING THE RUNES played at Waterside Arts, Sale, on 01 October 2023