Wednesday 26 October 2016

'O Whistle and I'll Come to You My Lad' Performed by Robert Lloyd Parry

Robert Lloyd Parry as M R James
One of the genuine pleasures of life, and an often forgotten one in a world of instant gratification and increasing self centredness, is having a story read to you. Robert Lloyd Parry knows this - he's also a great storyteller.

Fresh from a one man show realising HG Wells's The Time Machine, Parry has returned to his first love - a performance of one of the stories of perhaps the greatest English writer of supernatural fiction, M R James, which has been filmed for viral release on 31st October (see details at the bottom of this piece).

Parry, as James, performs one of the author's most famous stories, the 1904 tale "O Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad." Those familiar with James will know that many of his stories originated via Christmas recitals to pupils of the schools where he was provost, and it is this intimate setup, illuminated only by a solitary candle, that Parry recreates here.

We may not fully know the accuracy of Parry's lively creation of James - records of his style of storytelling are scant - but visually he is strikingly Jamesean. The story, about an academic who finds a whistle in an isolated coastal location and, blowing it, summons a dark something that stalks the scholar for its return, is familiar James territory, although less layered than some of the author's later stories. Parry is the voice of all - James himself, Parkin the academic, various pompous dinner guests and even a maid at the hotel where Parkin lodges. The gentle humour in the observation of humanity, an often overlooked aspect of James's writing, is beautifully rendered in this performance, but what everyone anticipates is the slow creep of unease as the academic, previously a denier of anything vaguely supernatural, gradually realises to his mounting horror that he is being stalked by an otherworldly entity.

"O Whistle" has televisual broadcasting pedigree: the 1968 BBC adaptation by Jonathan Miller with Michael Hordern as the wordless, bumbling academic (and arguably the scariest use of bedsheets ever on screen, although Parry stages an effective recreation of this in his performance); and more straightforward readings by Robert Powell and Christopher Lee in 1986 and 2000 respectively (I'll draw a a veil - pun slightly intended - over the 2010 adaptation with John Hurt as Parkin). But there's something about Parry's obvious love of James as a writer, his reverence for the material and enthusiastically theatrical performance which makes this version a worthy addition to the canon. And I defy you not to look over your shoulder at least once as the tale is told.

"O Whistle and I'll Come to You My Lad" will be available to download from midday 31st October (UK time) and for the first 12 hours will cost £2.99 to buy here: