Watching Haunted Child was a deeply frustrating experience and not just because of the disruptive behaviour of two school parties (and the dismissive attitude of one of the teacher / "supervisors"). Joe Penhall's play concerns a husband and father in the midst of a major mid-life crisis who returns to the marital home after an absence of several weeks believing he has found answers and spiritual enlightenment from a cult whose true motives become more sinister as the play unfolds. If Penhall had chosen to carefully build on Douglas' intially rational justifications of the group which gradually reveal themselves to require total submission and a large financial tithe this would have been a very good play indeed. Unfortunately he reduces the impact by introducing elements of unnecessary humour such as drinking a bucket of salt water (beat that Rooster Byron) and absurd Tai Chi poses. Despite this Ben Daniels is excellent as the wired and clearly unstable Douglas. Sophie Okonedo has a face that naturally radiates misery but she doesn't capture the full outrage that Julie should feel except when she demands to know if Douglas would blow himself up on a tube train if the group demanded it - one of the few moments when the true evil of cults and fundamentalist religions are truly laid bare. Jeremy Herrin, who made a pig's ear of Death and the Maiden, directs and perhaps if he had been able to impose a more suitable tone throughout the play this could have been as good as the premise suggests it should have been. - David Baxter
13 Jan 12
I found this rather disappointing and like most of the reviews here, didn't get the point of it. I have to admit that I nodded off for 10 minutes in Act 2 so may have missed something crucial- the seats at the Royal Court are so comfy! I just couldn't believe in these characters and the dialogue didn't ring true, particularly between mother and son. I actually felt concerned for the child actor appearing in this. It is disturbing but takes nearly 2 hours for not much to happen. - KAG
11 Jan 12
OK, so maybe I’m just thick, but I left this play thinking ‘so what is it you’re trying to say?’
Joe Pentall has written some good plays, amongst them the excellent Blue, Orange. Mental health is an issue he returns to often. In this play, husband / father Douglas disappears, seemingly for no reason. When he returns ,we discover he’s been with some sort of cult – or has he? He disappears again and when he returns this time he seems to be even more under the spell of an increasingly implausible group. His wife Julie is losing her tether and his son Thomas misses dad badly. It’s two hours before we discover the truth.
Sophie Okonedo is excellent and the young actor who played Thomas was terrific. Bunny Christie’s set is a perfectly realised family home, except the ceiling twice lowers mysteriously and somewhat pointlessly…. but what on earth the play is getting at is beyond me. I didn’t find it in the slightest bit illuminating, thought-provoking or even interesting. Ben Daniels seemed to be over-acting mercilessly, though in all fairness, I’m not sure how anyone could play Douglas believably.
Sadly, the Royal Court ends 2011 on a low. For me, a waste of an evening, I’m afraid. - Gareth James
21 Dec 11
Well, we see in it what we want to see, as evidenced by the comments below. Once we know what it is 'about' (this seems to have impressed some) the play goes nowhere - no development or viewpoint on offer so 'nil points' for treatment. A little embarrassed laughter from the RC audience (surely the perfect subject in the perfect theatre) then an ultimate response of respect for the playwright's and actors' reputations, but oh dear what dreary tedium. - Mikey
20 Dec 11
My score should have been 5 from the last review. I put 3 in error. - Bob
18 Dec 11
I thought it was brilliant. OK there was over exaggeration and a lack of credibility about the specifics of the 'Spiritual Journey' but anybody who has ever known anything remotely cultish will be very moved, regardless of which side of the fence one has been on. The emotions are very real and the acting superb. A must see. - Bob
18 Dec 11
No drama, appalling script - completely pointless.
One of the worst things I have ever seen on stage. - Paul
14 Dec 11
Ben Daniels and Sophie Okonedo do indeed give very nice performances in this (though Jude Campbell, who I saw, seemed merely to be going through the motions). More so, Ben Daniels charcter, in particular, is unforgettable. You will NOT forget what Ben Daniels does with a bucket, nor will you forget the speech he makes to justify what he does. In this one scene, occurring immediately after the interval, we see everything that is right with the play: the sadly recognisable fads that people can so easily be led into when they are desperate, the tension over childcare when one parent falls off the mental bandwagon. Indeed, had this play been a culty version of Kramer versus Kramer, it would have been amazing. But it isn't a relationship drama, and it isn't a horror film where the husband is a monster, it just doesn't have any dramatic impetus at all. Imagine watching two people argue about what is sane and what is insane. Imagine watching someone trying to talk someone out of cultish deranged behaviour. It is just that: talking. There's no delicious melodrama, and indeed, little drama at all. And it makes me sad, because in this production, Ben Daniels towers over it in a truly marvelous characterisation. - steveatplays
10 Dec 11
Brilliant, a play for our troubled times. Amazing performances, I loved it. - Emily McLaughlin
09 Dec 11
It's not so much that the narrative is transparent, as that there is almost no narrative at all. There's pretty much no meaningful action, just explanation. Nearly all great drama shows characters making difficult choices, and then living with the moral and practical consequences of these choices. It's action (mostly) that gives plays meaning, not description. We know everything we need to know about this play in the first fifteen minutes, and the next ninety tell us nothing more. - betsy
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