Unhomely: Three Tales of Terror comes to The Leeds Playhouse where Leo Owen caught the show

“We’re the damned… our fates are long since sealed,” says the Storyteller, Adam Z. Robinson, in this appropriately ominous opening, justifying the 14+ advisory age rating given to Unhomely. Accompanying Robinson, two other performers bring to life stories from the fabled, Book of Darkness & Light, Robinson’s brainchild.

The first, The Reckoning of Patience Whitaker, is a historical yarn of greed and revenge set in the 18th century, presented in front of a fittingly atmospheric backdrop. Designer Emma Williams and illustrator/designer Richard Wells conjure up a house familiar for any gothic horror fans with white wood-panelling, initially barely discernible through the smoke-filled air. This acts as a constant through all three stories, a visual reminder of the sense of unnerving disquiet felt in the dwellings at the centre of each narrative.

Amy Helena plays the titular character Patience Whitaker (and also later The Wraith) with Brian Duffy as her husband, the healer (The Preacher in the following story). Both Helena and Duffy do not speak, instead using Visual Vernacular, a form of physical theatre primarily performed by deaf artists with elements of exaggerated facial expressions, gesture, signs, poetry and mime.

The next tale, Shirley’s Monster, is introduced as from an unpublished manuscript by a renowned writer dabbling here in non-fiction. A voice-over accompanies signing in this second story, sensitively depicting domestic abuse and coercive control through some beautiful and haunting metaphor, courtesy of Robinson. Utilising physical theatre impressively, Helena takes the lead in this empowering survival story as Shirley faces her fears.

The final segment, ‘Tis Thy Presence, explores crimes of passion, effectively told through a series of letters, divulging the witnessing of strange events by a housemaid after her master’s sudden death. As with the previous stories, props are used sparingly, instead favouring expressive mime, complemented by spooky sound effects and music.

A tribute to old horror anthologies like Dr Terror’s House of Horror (1965), starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, Robinson uses the book to link stories, while Dr Schreck’s tarot cards connect events in Dr Terror. His writing style is reminiscent of the dark fairy-tale tone of the Grimm Brothers and theatricality embraces traditional storytelling techniques, alongside a small amount of projection. Signing is incredibly evocative and works well, showcasing the talents of a small cast with a lot to carry. Haunting and thought-provoking viewing.

Unhomely showed in The Courtyard Theatre from March 21-23.