Ghost Town (Tour - York Theatre Royal)
Ghost Town, at the York Theatre Royal, is a haunting yet ultimately optimistic story about the power of friendship.
On a remote beach somewhere on the east coast, Megan is face down in the sand, bleeding and unconscious. Joe stands over her; clearly tormented by what has happened and what part he may have played in it. And so begins Ghost Town, a new play written by Nick Drake Award winner Jessica Fisher and produced by Pilot Theatre and Lincolnshire One Venues.
As Joe (Damson Idris) frantically and repeatedly washes his hands in the sea, the only clue to what might have happened comes in the form of his unreliable memory and flashbacks to he and Megan (Jill McAusland) in happier times.
The oblique opening is at turns intriguing and infuriating. As an audience member you have to work hard to piece together the fractured narrative as it ebbs and flows back and forth through time, mimicking the motion of the tide, the sound of which is an ever-present underscore to the action. The answers do come however and when the pieces of the jigsaw gradually drop in to place it is not without a sense of reward.
Megan and Joe both have inescapably damaging pasts but they handle them in very different ways. Megan's instinct is to question, to find answers, while Joe's is to run. Haunted by hazy memories of the past which are further confused by his OCD, Joe's condition manifests itself in human form in the shape of Keira (Sheila Atim), an omniscient presence only he can see. Keira acts as both comforter and chief tormentor, bringing Joe to the height of hysteria and then soothing him back to calmness again.
The handling of OCD as a condition remains quite nebulous throughout but what emerge as the key themes of the play are the courage that comes from friendship and how understanding and empathy can bestow the strength necessary to face up to problems rather than forever trying to outrun them.
Katie Posner's direction is subtle and thoughtful, clearly resisting the temptation to top load the beginning with too many answers and instead trusting the strength of the story to reel us in before eventually unravelling the mystery.
In a story in which the past is so important what ultimately pervades in Ghost Town is a sense of optimism for the future. This comes not just from the narrative but also from the creative talent. The three young leads all handle their roles with passion and skill – in particular, Sheila Atim has a mesmeric physical presence, which is impossible to ignore – and suggest good things to come in the future.
Similarly, Fisher's script perhaps lacks a distinct voice but is bursting with clean lines and poetry. She is without doubt a compelling storyteller, which promises much for her future work.
Ghost Town continues at the York Theatre Royal until 19 February and then moves on to Cast, Doncaster for 20-21 February.