There is nothing like a good thriller and Haunted at the Arts is, I’m afraid, nothing like a good thriller. The only mystery about the show is its presence on the stage of a venue that, for all its uncertainties of scheduling and ownership, should be a new work jewel in the West End.
Instead, the Arts is increasingly a clearing house for dud projects. “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here”, it might as well have inscribed on its portals, which is a shame as this effort is the brainchild of Only Hope Productions. And without Hope there doesn’t seem much left in the kitty.
Authors Jon Claydon and Tim Lawler are the debut playwrights with a string of credentials in student drama, BBC radio comedy and “creative” marketing. With director Paul Jepson they carry sufficient clout to attract an impressive cast of actors headed by Jessie Wallace, late of Rent and formerly Kat Slater in EastEnders.
Jessie plays Alex, “a face off the telly” who lives in a converted sugar warehouse in Bermondsey which is impregnated with bad vibes from the Southwark history of brawls, brothels and prisons. When a bunch of friends call by to be social, she starts behaving oddly and ends up shrieking her head off and wielding a meat cleaver.
How we get to this point of no return (or no returns, if you’re an unlucky ticket-buying punter) is not exactly clear. The chats with asset stripper Bryan (feisty Gary McDonald) and Amy Winehouse lookalike Erica (sweet Caroline Catz) are generalised waffle about evil spirits and human goodness.
Before I slipped under my seat in a coma, I also noted that Hamish Clark (late of Donkeys’ Years, formerly Duncan in Monarch of the Glen) was feeling queasy as Clive while Sue Devaney struggled to keep a straight face as old friend Helen.
Tim Shortall’s design has an upstage lift bathed in sickly green lighting (by Mark Howland) which never justifies its centre stage threat, unlike the clanking inter-level carriage of death in the recent Rupert Goold production of Macbeth. The show is all over in a measly 85 minutes, but it seemed longer than Parsifal and not half as funny.
- Michael Coveney