Who is Edith?  Well, she is Edith Nesbit (1858 to 1924) an author best known to most people for her enduring children’s stories such as “The Phoenix and the Carpet” and of course “The Railway Children”.  What interested me about this play though was that it introduced to me a side of this writer that I was unaware of – her Gothic Horror Stories. 

This clever (but abridged version) play centres around Edith (Blue Merrick) on Christmas Eve as she is in the attic (and writing room) of her family home.  With her is a mysterious young man Mr Guasto (Scott Ellis) whom she has every plan to seduce while her husband and friends enjoy a bit too much festive refreshment downstairs and also, at a slightly later point in time, her maid Biddy Thricefold (Rebecca Mahon).

Edith’s mysterious stranger is in the attic having helped to bring upstairs a young lady who has fainted at the party.  We never get to see this young lady.  Taken a little bit by surprise by the forwardness of Edith, Mr Guasto admits to being a fan of her work and asks her to read a story for him from one of her novels.

Edith chooses to read from her earlier works of gothic horror.  From her “Tales of Terror”, we get readings from stories including “The Pavilion”, “Uncle Abraham’s Romance” and “The Ebony Frame” told to both Mr Guasto and Biddy.

There is a short section here that is one of my favourites, and that is when Edith reads out an alternative version from “The Railway Children”.

All three act out the various parts from these stories very well, but this work is at its strongest for me when we are finding out a little bit more about Edith and what drove her to have such a dark side to her character.  There are some genuinely touching moments, such as when as Edith tries to reconcile her sorrow over the death of her own son with the joy she brings to other people’s children through her stories.

As the events of the Christmas Eve story give way to the beginning of Christmas Day, Biddy reveals that she has a story of her own to tell.  To tell you anything about this though would ruin the whole story for you as any gothic horror story needs a surprise at the end.  If you want to know the ending, go and see the play.

I have to admit that I found Edith Nesbit as a person far more interesting than the stories she wrote, particularly as Blue Merrick brought Edith so much to life on stage.  While trying to find out a little bit more about the horror stories of Edith before I went to this performance, I found a person that I want to know a lot more about.  There is a lot more to Edith Nesbit as a person than her stories…this was a woman who had a most unconventional marriage for the time and who was also a political activist and co-founder of the socialist Fabian society.

I know that the play only gave the briefest of versions of some of the horror stories, but for someone who comes from a generation growing up on horror comics and television shows such as “The Twilight Zone”, the stories were a bit predictable to me (even if they are the original source material for much of what I read or watched).

This is a good theatrical work that does what any good work should do...entertain an audience, but also leave them trying to find out more about the subject matter themselves.  The life of Edith Nesbit is to me a far more interesting story than anything that she wrote, and it would make a wonderful piece of work in its own right.

Review by

Tom King


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