REVIEW: Whistle And I’ll Come To You, The Crusade Theatre Company, New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth.

Chichester-based Crusade Theatre Company offer an assured and impressive debut in their latest incarnation with a suitably-chilling new stage adaptation of M R James’

Oh, Whistle And I’ll Come to You, My Lad.

The New Theatre Royal, one of our most atmospheric venues, was the perfect venue for director Edward Cockburn’s new version, which successfully frames in the present the scary events of the past to suggest the long shadows they cast.

Lawrence Tate is excellent as Parkins, the reserved Cambridge professor who finds anything but the quiet he seeks when he journeys to the remote Suffolk coast.

A confirmed sceptic convinced that any night-time bumps can be explained away rationally, Parkins unwisely disturbs the spirits when he picks up a whistle from a graveyard and takes it back to his lodgings.

All his preconceptions are challenged as he unwittingly lets the otherwordly into his life - a disintegration Tate conveys beautifully.

Lurking in the background is the tale of a missing boy, the son of Parkins’ hosts, who mysteriously vanished. Parkins walks into a world of private grief, all part of the troubled landscape he vainly hoped would offer personal solace.

The child’s parents - Tom Clear and Lynne Chilton as Mr and Mrs Simpson -

fascinatingly offer sharply-contrasting ways of copying, the dad quiet and just possibly threatening, the mum trying hard to cover over the cracks.

It all converges for an enthralling piece of theatre - let down only by the noises-off (rain, train etc) in the early scenes being just a fraction too loud for the on-stage voices.

But all in all, it’s a production which announces Crusade as a company to watch out for. Here they’ve offered an intriguing new take on a cherished classic. Let’s hope they see this as their niche.

In the meantime, you can catch up Whistle And I’ll Come To You at The Connaught Theatre in Worthing on July 7 followed by The Point in Eastleigh on July 27.

Phil Hewitt