Friday, 10 December 2010

The Spirit Trap written by Jonathan Morris and directed by John Ainsworth

What’s it about: Ellie Higson believes that spiritualist Mrs Vanguard can hear the voices of the dead, but Henry Gordon Jago thinks it’s all superstition and theatrical trickery. But if Vanguard is a harmless fake, then why have some of those who have attended her sceances disappeared so mysteriously? Jago and Litefoot investigate... And find themselves facing a deadly foe from the afterlife.

Theatrical Fellow: He is sceptical of the claims of clairvoyants. As a man of the theatre he knows all about the tricks of the average séance. Jago scoffs at Litefoot’s quoting of Shakespeare commenting ‘don’t forget that fellow wrote about fairies!’ His cowardly instincts emerge during the séance and instead of touché Litefoot’s fingers he clutches his hand! He is such a hilarious rogue, falling asleep and snoring loudly during the communion with the spirits (‘I felt dashed relaxed all of a sudden!’). Jago plays along to a point, agreeing with Mrs Vanguard’s aspersions about his ‘Aunt Maude’ but soon uncovers all the elementary stagecraft. Because he is so opinionated and tunnel visioned in this story you just know he is going to come a cropper and be proved wrong. He cruelly tests Ellie but asking after her dead brother. He is considered well connected in London and a suitable subject to bring more victims to the spirits. To be honest Jago expected something less gloomy of the afterlife when he finds himself as insubstantial as a puff of smoke! He’s all ‘strike me pink!’ this and ‘dash me optics!’ that. Jago not using alliteration is a sure sign that he is not himself. He considers his own figure robust and is happy to be resurrected, resuscitated and restored to life! Even Jago could hit somebody with a pistol from a short distance (even if it is only his own foot!). The landlord would not dare to lose Jago’s considerable custom.

Posh Professor: I love Litefoot’s almost paternal concern for Ellie and is more than willing to protect her feelings. What would he do without Jago? Considers his specialities suspicious cadavers and a decent chicken madras! Whilst he is not keen on Jago’s bullying methods he does think that he has done her a service in turning her away from mediums. All he requires for restorative refreshment is a cup of tea and a warm bed (umm, nice). Litefoot is more than aware of the horrors, the ways of the world. He proves himself to be a thorough and intelligent investigator throughout. ‘He’s not my Henry Gordon Jago’ is a lovely admission of affection. He is secretly a child at heart and always wanted to discover a secret passage.

Standout Performance: Lisa Bowerman gets the chance to give Ellie some depth, underplaying her grief and her relief at being put in touch with her brother. I love how close she is becoming to both Jago and Litefoot, now on first name terms and Litefoot sweetly offering to be at her service after her ordeals rather than the other way round.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘A doppelganger!’ ‘What’s that a sausage?’
‘It might not be infernal here but it might as well be informal!’
‘With Victoria to lead us we will be victorious!’
‘Mr Jago is liable to explode!’
‘Welcome to the 19th Century…’

Great Ideas: Ellie visits medium Mrs Vanguard who claims to be able to distinguish the voices of the dead and has a message from her dead brother Jim. I really like how the séance scenes are played, you can see how Ellie is being manipulated but there is just enough doubt there that this could be true. As Jago points out all you have to do is tell them what they want to know and they’ll forget all you got wrong. When Mrs Vanguard reveals that Jim was killed by a gunshot wound following an altercation at Kings Cross Station they intrepid investigators wonder if there is more to this celestial advocate than meets the eye. Apparently the spirits can be playful, capricious and will only speak the truth if those present believe. Ellie quits her job at the Red Tavern to take up a position as Mrs Vanguard’s assistant. Why are those that visit Vanguard for a consultation spontaneously combusting? All the spirits require is an open mind – very clever, peoples consciousness’ are being extracted from their bodies and leaving them available for occupation and the spirits are being planted inside! They are trying to make contact with well connected people so that eventually Queen Empress Victoria will arrange a séance and be taken over. The subjects lose their sanity as the brain begins to overheat and eventually they burst into flames – the two plots dovetailing beautifully. These were regrettable fatalities from refining the technique. In reality these are not spirits but refugees trying to escape the dying world of the 49th century. They projected their consciousness’ through time and Mrs Vanguard heard their cries. They know that the Queen Empress will not be able to resist the chance to get back in touch with Albert and plan to take over her body and turn back the tides of history and create a new future. Jago manages to move the glass on the oujia board. Beryl speaks to her husband but she has no body to return to so touchingly Toby commits suicide so he can be with his wife, together with his loved one in the sleep of death. There must have been another medium feeding Vanguard information about Jim’s death. Rather delightfully Ellie is responsible for saving the life of Queen Victoria!

Audio Landscape: Whispering voices, a ticking clock, the voices of the dead, drunken revellers, morning birds, boots striking cobbles, banging noises during the séance, warm crackling fires, the terrifying screams of the spirits, Jago leaving his body (it literally sounds like his soul is being bottled), the hellish screams and bubbling madness of Jago’s mental prison, dogs barking in the distance, whale song (?), Ellie firing the gun and shattering the light, Toby burning to death like a wax candle and a hansom cab.

Musical Cues: There is some more punchy piano playing! There is some spooky and playful music as Litefoot investigates.

Standout Moment: Jago waking up in his mental nightmare and singing to himself to keep his spirits (haha!) up!

Result: Another science fiction delight dressed up as a supernatural chiller, this series has yet to produce one wrong move. Jonathan Morris’ script is rich with character and delicious dialogue and the story takes some delightfully unexpected twists which gives the initially simple story some real punch. What starts as a ghost story ends up having the most potentially disastrous consequences for humanity and goes to prove that this series can accommodate some intriguing dangers from the future. John Ainsworth’s direction is particularly strong, he has always excelled at the more atmospheric dramas and he has plenty of scope here to chill us to the bone. The Spirit Trap does not quite clinch full marks because it wasn’t quite as immaculate as the last tale but it still provided plenty of fantastic moments and a pleasingly eerie atmosphere: 9/10

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