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4 starsReviewed by Richard Stamp
Underground Venues
9 Jul 4:45pm to 5:30pm, 10 Jul 10:30pm to 11:15pm, 11 Jul 4:45pm to 5:30pm, 14 Jul 10:30pm to 11:15pm

Peaceful is a refreshingly uncomplicated play: a good, old-fashioned ghost story. In a lonely house, the ageing Miss Charles thinks she hears voices – much to the chagrin of her friend and servant, the mendacious Mr Coburn. Against Coburn’s advice, she summons a medium, who declares that her life will be “peaceful”. But as all three of the protagonists discover, when you open the door to the spirit world, you never know quite who will step through…

Miss Charles’s dark secret, when it emerges, isn’t the most original – a dispossessed tenant, a terrible revenge, you know the kind of thing.  But the medium Mr de Villiers adds some exotic colour, particularly as he relates a horrific tale about life on a slave estate in colonial Africa.  There’s also an intriguing power-play between him and Mr Coburn, who both turn out to have an unseemly interest the final resting-place of Miss Charles’s fortune.  It seems at first that de Villiers is an opportunistic charlatan, but by the end… well, that would be telling.

The cast all play their roles well, with escalating emotion as the tension builds, and – once we’re past the rather dull opening two-hander – the easy-to-follow plot cracks briskly along.  The one disappointment was that we didn’t learn more about the haunted house itself; we hear talk of tunnels and a maze of doors, but that thought’s never taken anywhere much, and the tantalising geography remains disappointingly unexplored.

The play looks appropriately gothic, with cobweb-like netting draped over the furnishings and a ghostly hue to the light.  But for me at least, Peaceful never quite managed to be truly, properly scary – despite some creepily understated sound effects, and a couple of sweat-inducing surprises.  All the same, my heart-rate wasn’t entirely unaffected: as de Villiers announced that the spirits had entered, I admit it took a stern-minded effort to resist glancing nervously around.

So in the end, Peaceful doesn’t carry any life-changing messages, but it’s an engaging tale and it’s effectively told.  If you like a good ghost story, then I think you’ll like this one: there were a couple of twists which I didn’t see coming, and it builds to a clear and fitting conclusion. I see it’s moving now to a late-night slot; it’ll be a pleasantly eerie way to round off your day at the Fringe.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Buxton 2013.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.