Dark Shadows: Review: Big Finish Audio 25: The Eternal Actress

Starring Donna McKechnie and Andrew Collins, with James Unsworth

Written by Nev Fountain

Directed by Jim Pierson and Darren Gross

In which Hollywood hack writer Gideon Wilder (Collins) gets the opportunity of his dreams – an interview with eccentric recluse Helvetica Stanhope¸ a silent film actress whose star has long since faded. But instead of her career, Miss Stanhope wants to discuss her terrible, prophetic dreams of the ways her friends and co-stars would – and did – die, and how she knows she’ll be next…

The first half of The Eternal Actress plays like a cross between Tales of the Unexpected and Sunset Boulevard (presumably hence Gideon being named after director Billy Wilder), with obvious parallels between Norma Desmond and the journalist who intrudes upon her little world and forever alters it.

Shut away in her decaying mansion from the “vulgar” world of 1950, Helvetica has cocooned herself in a monochrome world – marble floors like a chessboard, fixtures of ebony and ivory, and even animals with black and white fur or feathers. Naturally, she’s still ready for her close-up, but Tinseltown has little use for her mannered mannerisms and diva demands. Even her loyal assistant, elfin Amanda Harris has grown weary of her employer’s behaviour and yearns for a new life…

Listeners familiar with the 1897 Flashback of Dark Shadows will have little difficulty figuring out how Amanda Harris fits into this story, and they will no doubt enjoy being one step ahead of the other characters – at least, up until the point when Nev Fountain’s script pulls the proverbial rug out from under the listener and things get even more interesting!

Andrew Collins makes a welcome return to Dark Shadows in a new role – that of an earnest, silver-tongued journalist with a big scoop of his own — and Donna McKechnie overcomes occasional “flat” moments to successfully reinhabit the first memorable role of her impressive career. With its knowing nods to the realities of show biz and surprisingly vivid moments of visceral gruesomeness, The Eternal Actress is a memorably unsettling tribute to all those lovely people out there in the dark…

Verdict: A potent reminder that while “the pictures” may have gotten small, the scope of Big Finish’s Dark Shadows stories keeps getting larger and larger. 7/10

John S. Hall

Click here to order The Eternal Actress from Big Finish


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