With each October, there is a traditional renewed haunting of Downtown London with the Lost Soul Stroll. This year boasts a welcome refreshed script that removes most of the standard stories for a whole new selection, played by a capable cast ready to improvise in any situation.
This year, the usual characters like Dr. Cream and Ambrose Small are dispensed with while the show takes a narrower circuitous route from the Playground on King St. to Victoria Park and back. It begins with Jason Rip, who excels as usual with a new character, John Radcliffe, a public executioner who both excelled and was haunted by his line of work, while Megan Muldoon plays Joanne Donnelly of the notorious Black Donnellys who revels in her own role in that notorious feud with her own brand of humour.
With both guides, we are treated to inspired improvisational comedy with the usual anachronistic quips going through the city as they manage the crowd. Even more vital, there was an equal amount of poise dealing with a most unpleasant intruder into the production and the incident was handled with a firm poise. That is the kind of special risk inherent to this kind of roaming outdoor theatre, and the cast is more than equal to the task.
We have a whole new variety of stationary acts, including (on Rip’s leg of the stroll) two members of the Purple Gang prohibition era bootleggers and Cornelius Burley, a simple-minded man railroaded on a murder charge. In the second half, you will meet George Gervis, a glorified London loan shark who was appointed to several prominent positions in the city, and Pickles the Clown, who spitefully revels in the St. Thomas death of the elephant, Jumbo. In most cases, we are treated to some excellent acting that takes maximum advantage of the stories’ atmosphere in the nighttime. The whole effect is to give the show a new vitality that is long overdue.
However, Jason Rip pulls off the most effective new story with his tale of the Wendigo, which ends with a jump stunt that is genuinely effective. Aiding the show is improved production values such as more elaborate props, excellent makeup and even better costuming. Unfortunately, the route change harms the Sarah Harris ghost story, which needs the Eldon House setting to be really effective. Perhaps it could be safely excised from the production to be used when circumstances can allow it to be used in the proper location.
There was a risk that the Stroll was going to grow stale. However, with such renewed creativity and cast enthusiasm, the London institution still has a long life ahead.