Alone on stage, ennervating the audience mostly with the voice and a glance or a gesture has a singularly dramatic effect. This is what the Falmouth theatre-studies graduate, Jak Stringer achieved with her performance of “Walks with Wilkie” at the now well-established literary festival in Penzance in mid-June last year. The venue in the Acorn, once a Victorian chapel added an extra ambience to the subject, Wilkie Collins the eccentric friend of Charles Dickens and author of classics like “The Moonstone” and “The Woman in White”. Less remembered are his plays and less for his travel writings in Cornwall by means of which he initially gained fame. Curmudgeonly in some respects and daring in others, Jak Stringer has fell for him hook, line and sinker.
Jak Stringer, who has also received rave reviews from the NME as a musical impresario, shows herself to be an assured and energetic performer. In the year previous to this performance she retraced the footsteps of Wilkie Collins, bringing the stories from his somewhat forgotten classic, ”Rambles beyond Railways subtitled ‘Notes on Cornwall taken a-foot’, to life on the Acorn stage. This she does with verve and alacrity. Jak displays a range of emotions; at first sounding like a naive and almost, but not-quite, over-enthusiastic primary school teacher and rising to the eeriness of a Macbeth Witch into her recollection of an ancient lynching or parochial haunting. She poses Wilkie’s dilemmas from the 1850s-“Did the people of Looe consume their rats?”and “What made the women of Saltash clean the boots of strangers for sixpennyworth of beer?” and dauntingly examines the evidence for his finding a tavern filled with babies at the Lizard.
Creeping around the stage and sometimes not averse to a little appropriate melodrama, this performance was a continuous pleasure to watch-not least because Stringer varied the tempo and maintained a narrative pace throughout. She also used humour. She also showed her initial pleasure at receiving Collin’s bound volumes through the post. These she waived invitingly at the audience. In fact she used few props, none more effective than her woollen shawl sometimes drawn around her to convey poverty or want, at others spread to show joy at the reception which Collin’s work eventually received.