Sunday, 25 November 2018

REVIEW: The Haunted Man - The Edge Theatre, Chorlton. Manchester.

The Edge Theatre and Arts Centre is a warm and hospitable place to see theatre at this time of year. The whole building possesses a strong sense of community. As part of the Autumn 2018 programme, tonight's offering is 'The Haunted Man'. It is based on the novella by Charles Dickens, 'The Haunted Man And The Ghost's Bargain', first published in 1848. Hence, the "Christmas Carol" vibe throughout.

A Kindred Theatre Production presents a tale where the past and present are about to become entangled. We catch Jonathan who has just moved into a care home, in the past he was a professor. His mind is deteriorating, he can't tell what's real and what's imagined. One specific memory latches on to his mind, a memory he would rather suppress. Jonathan receives a gift, a book, Dickens' book of this story. Upon reading the inscription on the front, a ghost visits offering an incredible present: the opportunity to forget. This is a play about love, loss, betrayal, and friendship.

This story was about confusion and unfortunately I think this production was uncertain of itself as well. It was advertised as suitable for aged eleven plus. There was quite a lot of evidence to suggest this was a family piece of theatre: the theatrical storytelling, shadows, sound effects and music, and puppetry. However, the family theatre style was never realised to its full potential. As well, the content of the play contained mature themes exploring dementia, romantic love and relationships, and affairs - anyone might think this was a play for adults. The majority of the audience were adults. What was presented to us was a clash of styles, leaving me to ask myself what genre of theatre were we watching?

A care home set housed an amalgamation of the real world and Jonathan's internal consciousness. The safe and comforting feel of the set was merely an illusion. Here we had "haunted" in both senses of the word, in terms of the presence of the spirit world and being frightened by your own thoughts. The simpler the scary visual and sound effects were the better: the shocking knock on the door, a hand creeping from behind an arm chair, and the clever abstract shadows creating the illusion of a floating and transparent phantom. When additional sound or lighting effects were added it became over done (even slightly cheesy) especially for such an intimate show.

Some scenes became too long, getting caught up in establishing deep relationships between characters or communicating someone's backstory. In the process, forgetting about Jonathan who for me was the lead person guiding the narrative as he started to recall pieces of his mental jigsaw puzzle. Occasionally, I was asking myself why do we need to know this?

Sadly, the puppeteering was not as good as it could have been. The ghostly child figure appeared to move robotically; lacking fluidity. The two puppeteers executed some moves rather awkwardly too. After a while, one actor left to play another role, leaving the actress to puppeteer it - could they have just used one person all the way through?

For the most part, the play was a tangled web of moments from Jonathan's life. Effectively, we became just as frustrated and confused as Jonathan. It came as a wonderful relief when some clarity was given. Eileen, the love of Jonathan's life, was the one that got away. That was the heartbreaking memory he was trying to suppress. The acting was strong all around, capturing the storytelling style.

A great central performance from the actor playing, Jonathan too. Sadly, I didn't receive a programme so I'm not sure what his name was. Jonathan's internal pain, frustration, and mental pressure was made external and visible. One last thing, the ending with the Take A Break magazine did stick out like a sore thumb. It was trying to be humorous (?) but what ended up happening was the climatic poignancy of the last scene just shattered. 'The Haunted Man' contained strong performances but other production elements were uncertain or over done.

Reviewer - Sam Lowe
on - 24/11/18

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