In this marvellously silly, surprisingly chilling, one-man lampoon of the Gothic horror story, Australian comedian Nick Coyle drags up to play Frances Glass, a young governess sent to a haunted house in order to sort out the affairs of a family who died there recently in unexplained circumstances.
Dressed all in black and carrying a candle, Glass feels her way onto the stage and, between claps of thunder, proceeds to read a letter. If the governess is to get paid, we learn, she must stay at Blackbell House for six weeks, preparing it for sale.
Glass initially sets about her task with the grim determination of a Charlotte Brontë heroine, bravely ignoring the sinister chattering of children and the odd flying book, not to mention – gulp! – the red thread mysteriously missing from her embroidery kit. The poor little thing is only thwarted when she finally discovers the terrifying truth about the place.
Some of Coyle's writing is straight-up hilarious. Running through a list of things that need attending to, the governess laments the fact that "there are rats in the scullery and skulls in the rattery [...] and the gazebo is held together by spiders". Oh, what a predicament!
Coyle also breaks character occasionally to highlight the absurdity of certain aspects of the genre, as well as of theatre itself. "Now, enough talking to no-one," the governess chides herself at one point.
But actually, Queen of Wolves works so well because, as with all the best lampoons (Stella Gibbons's Cold Comfort Farm and Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton's BBC series Inside No 9 spring to mind), it doesn't hide its affection for the target of the satire. This is a show that really delights in the spine-tingling traditions of Gothic literature.
Coyle certainly has fun with them as well – plenty of things go bang in the night, while one scene involving a blackboard with a mind of its own ends in hysterical farce – but he has resisted the temptation to go for the easy laugh too often. The balance between spooky tension and comic relief is just right.
In fact, the real laughs come from Coyle's mesmerising performance. As the governess, he switches from a sort of prudish stoicism, capturing the sexual repression of the era, to glorious moments of high-camp. This, surely, must be the first time a governess has kept the ghosts at bay by getting down and dirty to the sounds of US pop star Selena Gomez. One imagines Henry James would be nodding along approvingly.
This innovative, skilfully executed piece of horror-comedy had me chuckling all the way home – then scrabbling for the light switch in the middle of the night.
Nick Coyle: Queen of Wolves is at Underbelly, Cowgate, until Aug 27; 0131 510 0395; tickets.edfringe.com