Early on, this play’s softly-spoken performer Ross McKay promises us a ghost story. That's not quite what we get. Suzie Miller’s play isn't a story of how ghosts create bumps in the night or sudden chills: it's an exploration of how unseen spirits offer comfort in an icy, inhospitable world.
Velvet Evening Séance is inspired by the true story of the MacGregor Brothers, who delighted first Edinburgh, then London with a series of theatrical, powerful seances. MacKay's play is a monologue delivered by the younger of the pair, James, who pleads his innocence in a murder trial front of an invisible court.
He's had a comfortless childhood, his mother dead, his father distant. The two brothers have a relationship that's got the kind of frightening intensity you could only get in a world that’s innocent of the soothing, distracting hum of television or internet. Communing with the spirits is a way of resurrecting lost intimacies, of reaching out to a realm where the powerless become omnipotent.
MacKay’s performance mixes wide-eyed faith in the unknown with reluctant awareness that sometimes the spirits need a little help. It’s a believable interpretation of the real-life James MacGregor’s behaviour, but it doesn’t always make for the most compelling hour. This medium is a little thin, a little watery-eyed, an unlikely guide for a mystic adventure.
The show’s format of an imaginary court case is a tired one, too, keeping the story tethered to reality. Still, at its best moments, it has the power to haunt.