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Robert Lloyd Parry as M R James Photo credit Shelagh Bidwell
Robert Lloyd Parry as M R James Photo credit Shelagh Bidwell

M R James – Dead Men’s Eyes: Review

Home » Reviews » M R James – Dead Men’s Eyes: Review

With the festival of Hallowe’en fast approaching what better way to spend the weekend before the 31 October than in the grisly comfort of not one but two supernatural horror stories.

The Nunkie Theatre Company’s ‘M R James Project’ brings us ‘Dead Men’s Eyes’, the latest in a series of one man shows, performed by R M Lloyd Parry. This performance sees two short 40-minute plays played out with charming yet devastating effect. At its core the project aims to reinstate the importance and significance of the oral tradition of otherworldly storytelling. Pioneered by Montague Rhodes James; a man who in the preface to ‘Ghost Stories of an Antiquary’ (1904) stated:

Robert Lloyd Parry as M R James Photo credit Shelagh Bidwell
Robert Lloyd Parry as M R James Photo credit Shelagh Bidwell

‘If any of my stories succeed in causing their readers to feel pleasantly uncomfortable when walking along a solitary road at nightfall, or sitting over a dying fire in the small hours, my purpose in writing them will have been attained…’

This evening’s production is comprised of ‘A View from a Hill’ and ‘The Treasure of Abbot Thomas’. ‘A View from a Hill’, performed first, tells of a chance meeting between two men that results in an invitation to a country house. The journey to the country house is described in meticulous detail and acts to inform us of protagonist’s intellect and passion for nature. R M Lloyd Parry’s use of descriptive language, accents and anecdotes paints a vivid picture of a time before smartphones, sat navs and tablets; a time where intellectual pursuits were a pleasure in and of themselves and involved books and time – lots of time.

Upon arrival at the squire’s residence our protagonist wishes to explore the surrounding countryside and is introduced to the binoculars (or field glasses as they’re referred to on stage); they’re heavy and were made by the sinister Baxter. R M Lloyd Parry eerily recounts the story of Baxter a misanthropic, ghoulish, Frankenstein-esque character whose nocturnal activities result in macabre consequences.

After the interval where the sound of Ravel’s ‘Allegro Moderato’ pervades unearthly across the stage the second tale (‘The Treasure of Abbot Thomas’) has a more traditional quest / explorer plot device. Somerton, an Antiquary, believes that the location of 10,000 gold pieces is hidden in clues found on stained-glass windows (depicting Job, John and Zachariah) and Latin transcripts. Upon finding the treasure Somerton’s life takes a turn for the worst. It’s then he calls upon his friend and cleric, Gregory for assistance. The set-up for this tale is excellent and R M Lloyd Parry’s interplay between humour and extended Latin discourse stretches the audience whilst ensuring they remain engaged.

Dead Men's Eyes. Credit Paul Lowe
Dead Men’s Eyes. Credit Paul Lowe

Sipping what looked like a brandy throughout both performances and sat in an ornate leather backed armchair, lit only by candlelight, we are transfixed. The dark black curtains that envelope the stage transport us from present day Salford to the rural idles of South-West England; and then to Steinfeld, Bavaria in a time-frame that spans back to the 16th century (if we include the biblical references, then the time-frame goes even further back) – all with believable and consummate ease.

This is an intellectual melting pot of Arthur Conan Doyle, Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and Dan Brown rolled into one. I didn’t believe that fear could be injected into an audience during a live performance – but I was wrong; when R M Lloyd Parry wants us to jump, we jump!

Nunkie Theatre Company presents Dead Men’s Eyes Two Ghost Stories by M R James Performed by R M Lloyd Parry was at The Lowry, Salford Quays on 26 October 2019.

Robert Lloyd Parry tells one of M.R. James’ ghost stories

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Written by
Moses Kabunga

A Manchester resident, raised in London. Moses has a keen interest in all things theatre, techy, sporty, music, film and languages (notamment francais).
His greatest achievement was cycling from London to Paris to raise funds for Action Medical Research in 2011. When not cycling he has entered The Bruntwood Prize for playwriting and won the Contact Theatre’s playwriting competition ‘Flip the Script’.

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Written by Moses Kabunga