There is the eerie flickering of candlelight and the faint sound of Edwardian music hall as we walk into Manchester’s Royal Exchange Studio and take our seats. Barber Owain Sawyers (Gary Lagden) is tending to his client – he’s comfortable with using a cut-throat razor as he spruces up his latest
victim customer and it soon becomes apparent that Sawyers doesn’t shy away from a spot of dentistry either…
“If you’re sure that Ghosts aren’t real,
If your Nerves are made of Steel,
If you’re brave and if you dare,
Come sit upon the Barber’s Chair.”
Written and directed by Lewis Gibson, The Chair is set in a barber shop in an creepy Cardiff port called Tiger Bay. Our barber and accomplished storyteller Sawyers is assisted by his aide Hans (Christopher Preece) and together they animate stories of mermaids, ancient Egypt and mysterious tales of wonder and suspense.
Gary Lagden keeps the diverse audience captivated with his skilfull storytelling – he moves through from Sawyers’ Welsh lilt to take on a range of different accents and physicalities as each twisted and chilling tale unfolds before us. The poetic and haunting performance is heightened by Louie Whitmore’s ghostly set and the macabre musical score played by versatile performer Christopher Preece. The shadowy set doubles up to provide a spooky soundscape – an upright piano howls unconventional chords to build suspense before it transforms into a ship’s sail and a large drum provides the uneasy beat of a blue moon.
Director Gibson folds the audience into the action as a few willing members step up to take a seat in the barber’s chair – there’s the offer of a trim and even a dram of whisky for some enthusiastic volunteer. Lagden’s Sawyers often looks out into the crowd and refers to us as sailors or ancient skeletons; sometimes he holds our gaze for a millisecond longer than is comfortable and it all adds to the unsettling atmosphere. My son, Thing 1 looked curious but equally terrified when Sawyers made his way over to him and my other son, Thing 2 averted his gaze for fear that he would be next. Both Things, aged 9 and 6, were compelled by the performance of The Chair from start to finish.
The pace of the production is pleasing too – there is a humorous ditty about anatomy and surgery just before the mirror takes centre stage for the grand finale. No spoilers here.
The Chair is a thrilling hour long journey of creepy magic, adventure and storytelling that is suitable for all ages from 7 upwards.
The Chair is running at The Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester until Sunday 18 October 2015.