From the title of Edna O’Brien’s new play, you may be expecting a creaky old British thriller, complete with slamming doors and overdone sound effects. But, I am pleased to report that Haunted is far from tired and the result is a beautifully rendered, cracking play, delivered with panache by a trio of very fine actors, including Brenda Blethyn.
Niall Buggy (who recently played alongside Meryl Streep in the movie musical juggernaught that is Mamma Mia!) stars as the mysterious and interior old man, Mr Berry; a character looking back at his life.
Mrs Berry (played by the wonderful Blethyn) clings onto their marriage as tightly as the dolls she creates in the local factory. He is retired and seems to exist solely for her criticism, come the end-of-the-day. She, on the other hand has a different view and says, “We fascinate each other.”
Enter Hazel (Beth Cooke), a young innocent who enters Mr Berry’s life and lifts his spirits, giving him a sense of purpose. Desperate for her to stay within his life, he gives her his wife’s clothes to sell. But soon his secret will out and lead to disastrous consequences for all concerned.
Each of O’Brien’s characters have depth, grace and flaws, meaning that you can empathise with them all, however dubious their motives or actions become. They are all haunted; essentially dreaming of a better life with less humdrum and more excitement.
The fractured marriage is fascinating to watch, as it slowly crumbles and cracks, giving both Blethyn and Buggy the chance to display genuine chemistry/conflict.
Brenda Blethyn gives a tremendous performance, filled with nuances, such as the way she adjusts her hairpin following verbal spats with her husband, like a warrior winning the war of words. Buggy, meanwhile is quietly effective, brimming with repressed feelings, coming the boil in act two.
Cooke has a challenging role as her character is essentially a plot device, so we can never fully understand what makes her tick. But she acquits herself very well in the company of two excellent performers.
Simon Higlett’s set design includes a fairground horse which leads to a remarkable scene filled with clues. Akintayo Akinbode’s music and Braham Murray’s solid direction also add u to a rewarding evening. The denouement seems a tad rushed though, as several scenes resemble the end, leading to a stop/start effect for the audience. But, this minor flaw does not hinder this highly original and gripping piece.
The less you know about this play, the more effective it will be. So, go and I can guarantee it will haunt you for days after.