The Other Side
Andrew Long and Gabriel Clark
Ghost stories are hard to stage as their nature is absolute; there are no degrees of success—if they do not scare the audience, they are a failure.
The Other Side, from Switch_Mcr, does not hold back on the scares. The first act closes with moving furniture, doors opening mysteriously, a spectral figure at the window and apparent possession.
Journalist Claire Cross (Ntombizodwa Ndlovu) inherits a derelict isolated house from her late mother. She and her partner, property developer Benjamin Bates (Andrew Long who co-wrote the script with director Gabriel Clark), have different opinions on what should be done with the property—Benjamin favouring renovation for a sale, but Claire starts to believe the house offers a way of contacting her late mother in the afterlife. A framing sequence with Benjamin talking to The Woman (Gráinne Flynn), who behaves like a condescending psychiatrist but knows more than she should, indicates events did not go well.
The various elements of The Other Side combine to ensure a quality production. Elli Kipriadis’s set with stacks of boxes, peeling wallpaper and ivy intruding (and of course the compulsory black door that no-one can open) has a desolate atmosphere. Jack D'Arcy’s sound designs and Mims Jeddal’s lighting go beyond simple loud noises or sudden darkness to build an otherworldly mood. This is particularly the case in the second act where D'Arcy’s designs serve as a soundtrack to events as in a movie and Jeddal’s autumnal lighting makes for a bittersweet final meeting between the lovers.
The ambitious script, however, throws up issues which are not resolved fully. The curse upon the house is, it turns out, more of a dark fairy tale than a ghost story and its complexity is such that hints about its nature cannot be dropped in the first act. As a result, the first act involves a series of supernatural incidents without a context—it is hard to understand why Claire is so sure the house is a gateway to the spiritual world.
The character of The Woman in the first act is annoyingly enigmatic. Gráinne Flynn’s performance makes clear she is malevolent and there are hints of her supernatural nature, but linking her to events in the house is hard to achieve. The first act, therefore, is vague and, at 100 minutes, too long.
If the first act is slow, the second is stuffed with incident. The Other Side feels like two distinct plays—the first a classic ghost story and the second more abstract like a Neil Gaiman fairy story. The second act opens in a misty limbo in which a series of ‘what-ifs’ are set out exploring different possible explanations for events in the first act. The explanation of the curse is so complex, it cannot be shown on stage so is given verbally, in a lengthy voiceover, as the cast mime scenes from the story.
It is hard to avoid a sense of self-indulgence in The Other Side as if all involved do not want the show to end. The explanation of the curse leads to what seems like a logical conclusion and audience members even start to applaud, but the show keeps going. Perhaps aware they have pushed their luck, a character in the second act constantly draws attention to how much time is left.
The Other Side is a classy variation on the traditional ghost story but would benefit from revisions to the first act and a general editing to bring down the running time.
Reviewer: David Cunningham