The Haunted Doll’s House

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Friday 24 March – Sunday 29 October 2017
11am – 4pm

Mixed media. `Ghost` performed by Ian Taylor

Steve Manthorp is fascinated by the ghost stories of the late Victorian writer M.R.James (1862-1936) and has created a number of works inspired by them. The Haunted Doll’s House is one of the author’s best known tales and Manthorp’s interpretation is his most ambitious and largest ‘Jamesian’ artwork so far.

Manthorp has taken small liberties with his subject. Most significantly, he has changed the doll’s house of the story’s title from a Strawberry Hill Gothic Mansion to a more modest Edwardian town house, but the story you see revealed here remains broadly similar to the original.

The Haunted Doll’s House can be read like a comic strip from the kitchen upwards. Clues in each room inform the narrative, starting with the corpse of the family patriarch laid out, as was traditional, on the kitchen table. The drawing room and bedroom hint at a terrible crime, culminating in a dreadful revenge exacted by the malevolent spirit in the attic bedroom.

The appearance of the spirit is a contemporary version of the Victorian stage effect, ‘Pepper’s Ghost’ in which a performer hidden in a well would appear as a transparent figure on stage, reflected in an angled sheet of glass.

The level of detail in the house borders on the obsessive. Every book in the drawing room bookcase opens, and each page can be read with a magnifying glass. The clock, central to the original story, keeps the correct time.

Manthorp says, “I love visiting Harewood and although it’s at heart an 18th century house, it has a whole layer of Victorian additions and alterations – secret passages, the terrace, additional floors and so on. And ghosts, of course. The ghost in my Haunted Doll’s House will have plenty of company at night.”

The Haunted Doll’s House was commissioned for the project The Haunting: Ghosts of Every Shade by Alchemy and The Leeds Library