Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Haunted

Jon Claydon & Tim Lawler
Arts Theatre
(2008)

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I am easily scared. In fact during the recent one minute earthquake that struck London, I lay in bed, deadly still, petrified under my duvet. My first thought was that there was a ghost in my room, vibrating my bed. Yes, that's right. Not a person, not even a natural disaster entered my head. My first and only logical conclusion was that some kind of poltergeist had come to torment me.

I do myself no favours though as I am a sucker for a good ghost story so I was very excited (if a little scared) at the prospect of another Woman in Black(esque) horror in the West End.

Inspired by the Faustus legend and his fascination with the dark side, Haunted plays with the notion of possession. Five old friends gather together at Alex's (Jesse Wallace) new flat, but the building has a past, just as the friends do and as the evening progresses it's each man for himself.

A promising start, although it soon became clear that this plot is far more suited to screen than stage. The casual gathering of friends with sinister undertones initially worked well with the exception of some embarrassing dialogue comparing the preparation of a salad dressing to the blossoming romance between old friends Alex and Daniel (Gary McDonald).

However a crucial component in the success of a horror film is the soundtrack. Yes, this production had the eerie clanking of pipes and whispering walls but the warning music that lets you know when something terrible is about to happen, or that lulls you into a false sense of security, was missing. As a result the play lacked suspense. In fact it became rather shambolic as the audience struggled to follow who was after who.

Jesse Wallace headed up this established cast and was charming as the ever so middle class Alex. Despite the often lame script she was thoroughly convincing as a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Although I have to admit when the spirits took over and she turned to face the audience in full cockney glory, I thought, "YES! Kat's back!" Sadly that was not the case. It just seems that all spirit/devil/poltergeist incarnations come from East London as another character also adopted this accent when possessed.

As the plot spun out of control, so did the staging as cleavers, cling-film and other household objects were used in attack. Who knew a bottle of fairy liquid could be so deadly? Almost impossible to follow who or what was to blame and with its abrupt conclusion, Haunted felt less sophisticated horror and more Scooby-Doo caper.

Until June 14th

Reviewer: Rachel Sheridan