First published in 1872, Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu’s spooky tale of a tormented English clergyman is unlikely to raise goosebumps these days.
This one-man telling of it rattles its bones effectively, however.
Actor and adaptor Luke Townson addresses us as Dr. Martin Hesselius, who recounts his involvement in the curious case of the Reverend Mr Jennings, who after staying up all night studying and imbibing green tea, is visited by a spectral black monkey.
A one-off visitation caused by too much caffeine and an interest in the supernatural?
Sadly for the Reverend Jennings, no. The monkey reappears and each time grows more terrifying. It wrecks his church sermons. It interrupts his prayers. It demands Jennings destroy himself.
Hesselius and Jennings share a mutual interest in the work of the 18th century Swedish philosopher-mystic Emanuel Swedenborg. But is Jennings’ plight spiritual or psychological? And can Hesselius intervene before it’s too late?
Working on the small stage in the venue’s suitably (some might think it oppressively) intimate back room, Townson switches between four characters and plays both sides of any dialogue.
The switching jars a little at first – there’s something a touch vaudevillian about it – but Townson’s skilful way with the text, his command of different accents and commitment to each role helps smooth out those bumps. Jennings’ desperate plight easily sustains interest for 65 minutes.