In 1921 James McGregor is accused of his brother’s murder. In court, fighting for his life without a lawyer, he tells his story. From a young age, James felt inferior to his brother, Thomas, who was also his father’s favourite. After their mother’s death and James’ spiritual awakening, the brothers vow to become spiritualists to make contact with their mother. Again, James remains in his brother’s shadow, unable to speak to the spirits like Thomas can and not allowed to lead a séance himself. This built up frustration and jealousy supposedly causes James to murder Thomas. The real story is full of betrayal, deception and surprise and James is ready to tell you.
Velvet Evening Séance truly embodies the Victorian Gothic. Playwrights Suzie Miller and Ross McKay create an atmospheric production that blends illusion with beautiful storytelling, ultimately leaving the decision between truth and deception to the audience. McGregor fights against his death sentence stood atop the gallows, emphasising his ever looming judgement that draws the audience to the importance of his story. Clever tricks on stage introduce another element to the play, adding to the sense of tension and magic by using creative character portrayals and props to develop the narrative.
While Velvet Evening Séance may embody the Victorian Gothic thematically, this also unfortunately applies to pacing. At times, particularly towards the end, the script becomes a little drawn out and unnecessarily repetitive, leaving the audience restless. Suspense is built up slowly throughout the play, giving us a high expectation for the climax, but the low pay off left the whole piece feeling a bit disappointing.
Velvet Evening Séance’s beautiful choreography is undeniable, and does well to create an eerie atmosphere in the gloomy Assembly Hall. This show will transport you back to 1921 for a real Victorian, supernatural experience, even if it doesn’t quite deliver on all narrative fronts.
Words: Nastassia Sutherland
Velvet Evening Séance, Assembly Hall, Aug 16-28 (not 22), 4.30pm