‘Ravenscroft’ at WLT

Posted: November 1, 2012

The Winchester Star

Ellen Nichols (left) as Mrs. Ellen French, Debbie Miles as Mrs. Ravenscroft and Meagan Haynes as Dolly rehearse a scene from Winchester Little Theatre's production of “Ravenscroft.” (Photo by Ginger Perry/The Winchester Star)
Zoe Thomas (left) as Gillian Ravenscroft hugs Steve Nichols (Inspector Ruffing) while Amy Thomas, the governess Marcie Kleiner, takes in the action during a rehearsal of Winchester Little Theatre's “Ravenscroft.”

Winchester — An unusual death has occurred in a remote English manor, and Inspector Ruffing of Scotland Yard is determined to find out if it was murder or an accident.

But his investigation will be anything but easy as the five female residents of the house seek to dissemble and cloud the truth every step of the way.

The meandering journey to finding out what happened will be chronicled in Winchester Little Theatre’s upcoming performance of “Ravenscroft” by Don Nigro, director Barbara Swink said.

For Swink, who has directed about 40 plays at the theater, the dark comedy held immediate attraction because of the setting, the characters and the sheer fun of it.

“When I read it, I grabbed it and said, ‘This is my play,’” said Swink of Winchester.

The play opens this weekend at the theater at 315 W. Boscawen St. The play runs from Friday to Sunday and Nov. 8 to 11 and 15 to 17.

Set in a snowbound English manor in 1905, the action presents a series of increasingly baffling interrogations by Inspector Ruffing, played by Steve Nichols of Winchester. Ruffing has come to the home of Mrs. Ravenscroft to investigate the death of a footman, who plunged headlong down the stairs and broke his neck, Swink said.

“He finds in the process that Mrs. Ravenscroft’s husband also fell down the steps and died at a previous time,” Swink said.

Mrs. Ravenscroft is a strong woman who is used to getting her own way, said Debbie Miles of Winchester, who plays the character. The way she runs her household, she delegates, but rarely can she have a whole conversation without someone interrupting to find out how she wants something done.

Some people might call Mrs. Ravenscroft controlling, said Miles, who is marking her third production with the theater.

“I like to stay on top of things, but it just depends on whom you ask,” Miles said with a smile.

Another major player is Mrs. Ravenscroft’s daughter, Gillian, who is played by Zoe Thomas, 15, of Winchester. Her parents are Amy and Griff Thomas.

Gillian is a complex girl, at once cunning and slightly unhinged, mature and immature, Zoe said. She loves winding people up and, though people will sympathize with the lonely girl, “if they had to live with her, that would be difficult.”

“She doesn’t react like other people would,” said Zoe, who is also acting for the third time at WLT. “She is just a little off in what she says and does.”

The other characters in the play are Ellen Nichols as the cook Mrs. French; Meagan Haynes as Dolly the maid, and Amy Thomas as Gillian’s governess, Marcy Kleiner.

All of the women have different personalities and approaches to handling the inspector, and none of them are above lying to him, Swink said. He in turn is intent on finding the truth because he recognizes how entangled he is in lies.

Though the play is set in 1905 and the costumes and decor match that time, the storyline is an unusual fusion of accessible and modern subject matters and period drama, Swink said.

“There are a lot of layers to it that I think the audience will enjoy,” Swink said.

The play has a great deal of unexpected fun, Miles said. Often, people think of a period piece and they expect it to be “stuffy and pretentious.” People who come to “Ravenscroft” expecting that are in for a surprise, she said.

One surprise will be in how the play is staged with most of the characters onstage most of the time, Swink said. Downstage is the parlor where Ruffing conducts his interrogations. Upstage are other vignettes where the characters go and are considered out of the action.

Swink designed the set, choosing darker Eastlake style furniture with a few early Victorian pieces.

The lighting is an important part of the atmosphere, Swink said. The light that shines on the parlor is running at 25 percent. The only light that illuminates the upstage areas is the light that spills over.

“I didn’t want anything up there that would reflect and catch your attention when it is supposed to be downstage,” Swink said.

Usually that attention is supposed to be focused on Ruffing, who is always onstage, and whatever female character he is talking to at the moment.

The costumes, which were designed by Marian Cerwensky, also are period. The adult women’s costumes have full skirts, mostly flat in the front, with gathered pleats and a small train.


Winchester Little Theatre’s production of “Ravenscroft” begins with performances this Friday to Sunday and continues from Nov. 8 to 11 and 15 to 17. Contact 540-662-3331 or boxoffice@wltonline.org.


— Contact Laura McFarland at lmcfarland@winchesterstar.com