Every once in awhile, the theatre produces a gemstone of such raw energy as to shake-up ancient truths about who we are and what it is that we fail to communicate.
‘A Haunting’, written by Nathan Lucky Wood, directed by Jennifer Davis and produced by Ellen Buckley, is such a play. Set on the night of Halloween, it propels us into an alternate online world where the unspeakable is spoken in half sentences that hint at forbidden desire and murderous intention. Ah, yes, we know this world so well – the internet – an amorphous space which allows us to rip the mask from our own face, only to reveal another mask, to a benign stranger – which is how we are introduced to Mark (James Thackeray), a 15-year-old home alone, playing Xbox, with Ghost (Jake Curran), a detached voice that raises the ante of the game plan. ‛I think we should meet up in real life,’ Ghost says. But Mark prefers to explore the parameters of their relationship on internet speak.
Ghost cajoles Mark into playing an imaginary game of domesticity, just the two of them, nothing sexual, in case that’s what Mark has in mind. No, this has more to do with Ghost’s culinary skills: ‛I thought I’d do a bolognese.’ Then there is the intrusion of a doorbell sound, imaginary, of course. ‛Your mother is home,’ Ghost announces. But Mark’s mother, Anna (Beatrice Curnew), is elsewhere in the real world analysing ads in a space she refers to as ‛the thought chamber’. The second we meet her, we know her, this woman who enthuses about the virtues of ‛Complan’, a liquid supplement to keep the dying alive. ‛Get it all down you,’ Anna urges, like a seasoned marketeer. Complan, it’s the drink for ‛the dying who still want to live’. Hers is a deliciously complex character, one imagines the nurse who desperately tries to resuscitate the patient she’s just smothered.
But it is not only Anna that we know, slipping easily beneath her brittle exterior, but also Mark and his willingness to be defiled. He is an adolescent in search of a wound – a mark on the body, perhaps – inscribed by an ‛other’ as guarantor that he exists. Through his fairhaired countenance, Mark conveys the sense of sacrificial hero – a male Jeanne D’Arc – while Ghost, who is condemned to the place of the uninscribed, can only provoke the other’s reaction to prove he exists. Like a poltergeist, he upsets the fragile calm that Mark finds in the glow of his desktop screen. There is an unspoken, sexually charged energy that moves them to a fatherless space – this Lucifer Cupid combo spawn from Bacchus and Ariadne – the most masterful of Titian’s paintings.
Without revealing more of the plot, let it suffice to say that this is a consummate production, fueled by the skills of a consummate cast. Playwright Wood writes with such economy as to make the best of his contemporaries rethink their craft. Reflecting on the compelling performances of actors Thackeray, Curnew, and Curran, it’s a safe bet to say that director Davis will enjoy many successes to come. Each of the creatives brought something so unique to this production as to have the audience at the King’s Head Theatre roaring with approval at the play’s end. Perfection.
Review by Loretta Monaco
King’s Head Theatre
115 Upper Street Islington
18 July 18:30 (Preview)
21 July 20:00 (Press Night)
23 July 18:30
28 July 21:30
30 July 17:00
All tickets £10
Box Office: 0207 226 8561
Social Media Details: @HauntingPlay @KingsHeadThtr #AHaunting #Festival46 #TRD