Two linked stories, now, from Mark Valentine's The Uncertainty of All Earthy Things. Both feature an eccentric, intense theatre director, Robert Hobbes.
'In Cypress Shades' is told from the perspective of a producer seeking to put on a production of Milton's 'Comus', a strange masque the poet wrote in his youth. Hobbes, a finely-drawn example of the director-as-tyrant, finds a make-up artist whose work is so good that it eliminates the need for masks in the masque. Unfortunately, as the narrator discovers, the mysterious artist's work has an enduring quality.
'The Mask of the Dead Mamilius' concerns the tragic small son of Leontes in The Winter's Tale, who dies because his father - another tyrant - falsely believes he had been cuckolded. In this short tale a young actress takes the part of Mamilius, who is required by Hobbes to haunt Leontes through to the bitter-sweet end of the drama. Unfortunately the haunting proves more than merely theatrical...
Theatrical ghost stories are often gentle, whimsical efforts, but these have a more disturbing tone. Changing faces, they warn us, is always a problematic activity, and artistry is akin to magic,
More from this running review very soon.