The Ash Tree is a newly adapted version of the MR James horror story of the same name. There’s always a place for something creepy at Christmas time and with this story Bafflegab Productions has hit the target. The Matthew Holness adaptation brings the setting right up to date, while the cast (Amanda Abbington, Reece Shearmsith and John Sessions) bring the story to life superbly. Other parts are played by Stephen Critchlow, Margaret Cabourn-Smith and Matthew Holness.
Rachel Fell (Abbington) lost her parents a year ago and has invested her inheritance in buying Castringham Hall in Suffolk. The Hall is a derelict Tudor house her family once owned. She and husband Simon (Shearsmith) plan a restoration and hire a local historian the wonderfully named Mr Crome (Sessions) to help establish the house’s history. From these simple ingredients the cast unwraps a tale of superstition, legend, death and despair. With each step the ordinary becomes the less ordinary and the listener slowly builds a picture of horrors yet to come.
Rachel can’t escape her past yet it’s Crome who knows more about the past than he wants to reveal. Simon just wants a happy life and a chance to build a family. Amanda Abbington is a brooding, angry presence in the middle of events, while Sessions is well-cast as the creepy, supercilious, smarmy historian. And then there’s the Ash Tree itself.
The Ash Tree
Rachel moves into the bedroom once used by an ancestor after arguments with Simon. Of course said ancestor was found dead in bed one day, and outside the window? Yes, an ancient ash tree. Then there are noises at night. Twigs on the window – or is it?!
Even given the title, the tree only grows in relevance as Simon and Rachel try to make a go of their new life in Suffolk. If you don’t know the story, you will be kept guessing until the end. We say it’s worth the listen.
It’s a strong release and joins others from Bafflegab such as Blood on Satan’s Claw on any connoisseur’s list of must-listen releases. It’s released on December 6th and available here on both a single CD and download. Direction (Simon Barnard), music (Edwin Sykes) and sound design (Simon Robinson) all add to the atmosphere.