In 2014 the play was written by Jarek Adams, and produced in partnership with Jenny Wren Productions for a three night test run at the Playhouse Theatre in Cheltenham.
5* Review by Simon Lewis of the Gloucestershire Echo
Be honest, how many of you have heard of John Nevil Maskelyne? No, neither had I – until last night, when the intriguing story of his life was entertainingly told under the deft direction of Jenny Wicks.
Born in Cheltenham in 1839, Maskelyne made a name for himself as an accomplished magician whose mission statement extended to exposing the Davenport brothers, fraudulent American spiritualists whose crude tricks readily deceived audiences into believing they could make contact with the dead.
For his part, the answer to the question “Is anybody there?” was a categorical “No”. That is, until his partner-in-mischief dies, the dark history of the family farm surfaces and strange events force him to wonder if there may, after all, be an afterlife.
At the heart of the tale lies a mysterious gentleman who has exerted considerable influence on generations of Maskelynes, some of it quite grim, and who regularly, and quite literally, comes back to haunt them. Interspersed with all kinds of genuine magic tricks, including the torn newspaper and the disappearing watch, still raising eyebrows after all these years.
From the outset, I was transfixed by a highly absorbing story that drew me inexorably in as the revelations unfolded.
Original cast image with Peter Clifford as JN, Murray Andrews as George Cooke, and Elise Heaven as The Mysterious Gentleman. Directed by Jenny Wicks.
‘What a wonderfully entertaining evening at The Playhouse Theatre, Cheltenham, watching ‘The Mysterious Gentleman’. Great writing from Jarek Adams, convincing acting – and magic!’ Jackie John
‘That was inspired and fascinating. It appealed to my dark side, and I loved the mix of scepticism and the poignant desire for ‘contact’ after a death.’ Judith Green
‘It’s a great piece of writing and even my grumpy teenager was riveted to his seat! I loved the way you used the theatre – having JN and George up in a box, sitting in the front row, moving through the space asking for help with an illusion!’ Steve Connolly
‘Feedback from the five Magic Circle members that I was with was very positive. The thing that worked especially well for me was the relationship between Maskelyne and Cooke. I never understood how the role of ‘confidential assistant’ worked before – now I do, so thank you.’ Sue Rowbotham (Historical Advisor to the production).