If you happened to be taking a night-time drive through Barton this weekend, you might have been distracted by the blood-curdling shrieks coming from the usually genteel Burwash Manor. For, down the farm track, anyone who’d dared explore would have chanced upon a towering tipi, a fire pit, fire-dancers and wild-haired women dancing in the dark to a gypsy beat, ready to embark on an altogether different Halloween experience.
This weekend only, Burwash Manor was taken over by Nasu Enzuru, a travelling band of actors, musicians and performers who recently stirred up the River Cam with a floating production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and marked Halloween with an atmospheric, outdoor production of Charles Dickens’ The Haunting.
After feasting on wintry fare prepared by The Willow Tree, Bourn – huddled excitedly on benches in the candlelight – we were met by a mysterious figure with a lantern, who promised to lead the way to our seats for tonight’s performance.
Trudging through the shadowy courtyard, we spotted the marquee (even arty sprites and spirits have to think of the weather) facing a makeshift stage, laced with curiosities and Victoriana, from books to clocks; the wooden barn showroom providing an effortlessly rustic backdrop.
The play itself is packed with ghost story staples – disembodied voices, cold, empty rooms, family secrets and even the odd flash of lightning – and the two leads created an effective ebb and flow between suspense and surprise. The open-air setting, as well as removing the third wall, drew us more viscerally into the action; we could smell the woodsmoke from the fire and hear it crackle, even feeling its heat; while it wasn’t hard to imagine a barn owl – or ‘ghost owl’ – silently wheeling overhead as described.
As well as a fine, working set (I’m still not sure how those cabinet doors swung open of their own accord…), the costumes were stunning, with the frightful vision of the tragic, ghostly bride a particular triumph in terror.
After the play’s dramatic, fever-pitched conclusion, it was back to the tipi to get warmed up and enjoy a delicious homemade sticky toffee pudding while a local musician struck up her guitar.
Nasu Enzuru have struck upon something truly exciting, creating an experience that is pure theatre from the moment you enter their off-beat, mischievous world. And by morning, it’ll be like nothing ever took place on the farm. And perhaps it didn’t…