Alphabetti Theatre, Newcastle
The title and publicity image are misleading. I arrived expecting something supernatural, possibly gothic, possibly horror story. I wasn't the only one: a few others said the same thing.
However there's nothing supernatural or gothic about Louise Taylor's The Frights—but there is horror, although not of the movie kind. It's far worse than that: horror movies are so obviously fiction that the shudder we experience when watching them is enjoyable because we know it isn't real, but the horror Taylor details in The Frights, which is the story of activist Hanny who was held captive for three months overseas and has now returned home, is truly frightening because it is real.
But it actually goes beyond that, for what is also frightening (and even closer to home) is the effect of that captivity on Hanny, her boyfriend Luke and their relationship, for there is more than a little uncertainty about what is the true story of her captivity.
Almost equally disturbing is the way Tash and Kieran, two complete strangers they meet in a bank, react.
The play opens with Hanny (Christina Berriman Dawson) and Luke (James Hedley) arriving at the bank on their way home from the airport on her return to the UK, having to wait until a cashier becomes free. They are joined by a stranger, Kieran (Jacob Anderton). An altercation occurs and then Kieran's partner, Tash (Sally Collett), arrives and through the ensuing events we learn a little about Jacob and Tash but a lot more about Hanny and Luke.
There are flashbacks to the beginning of their relationship and, very chillingly, to her captivity.
What is the truth of Hanny's captivity? Was there one captor or three? Is the newspaper story true? Why is Hanny's story different? There is confusion, contradiction...
Director Ali Pritchard (who, incidentally, is also founder and artistic director of this new, tiny venue) has opted to play the piece in traverse which adds to the intimacy and the impact. The four actors, despite the difficulties of such intimate closeness to the audience, are totally convincing.
Although The Frights is the second play to be performed in Alphabetti's new home, it is the first "home grown" production. The company's mission statement says that it wants to make theatre which will "leave the audience thinking at the end" and this play certainly does that. I for one will be watching this new venture in Newcastle with a great deal of interest in the weeks and months to come.
The Frights plays at Jabberwocky Market in Darlington on 28 March and at ARC Stockton on 15 April.
Reviewer: Peter Lathan