I had the privilege of reviewing A Haunting during its critically acclaimed run at the King’s Head Theatre in the summer of 2016 and, now, once again, during its transfer to the Vault Festival 2017. The play has undergone a cast change of two of its three original actors, which has considerably altered my own subjective interpretation of the piece.
A Haunting, written by Nathan Lucky Wood and directed by Jennifer Davis, is a play of multi-layered complexity which makes us cringe at the inherent dangers of internet blood sport, where a game participant can be hunted, wounded, or killed as a result of a chance meeting online.
As the play opens we are immediately introduced to the world of the weird by a musical riff (composer Guy Holden) that forewarns ‘this is going to be scary’. It is Halloween night and Mark (Roly Botha), a 15-year-old home alone, is playing Xbox with Ghost (Jake Curran), an anonymous online entity with a mature, whiny voice. We sense immediately that Ghost is a consummate manipulator. But Botha’s Mark is much more knowing than the Mark in the original production – who conveyed a sense of ‘sacrificial lamb’ – and this is where Botha’s interpretation of the character shifts the weight of the play and throws up different sets of questions: What can be said about our relationship to death, of its influence in our decisions and of the anxiety it produces as it shadows us in a parallel universe? Surely, Anna (Izabella Urbanowicz), Mark’s mother, an advertising executive who is developing a game plan for Complan, a product for ‘dying people who still want to live’, has a sense of death and its ghostly shadow. But how much of her own anxiety has she transferred to her son, albeit smothered in motherly concern, so that Mark seeks to uncover its truth elsewhere.
In the original production, the rich absurdity of Anna’s monologue, detailing the wiles of advertising, evoked gales of laughter from the audience. The same was true of Curran’s Ghost (Curran being the only original cast member) and his musings on domestic bliss and the ingredients for a rich bolognese. This time ‘round we sense the pairing of Anna and Ghost’s tragedy – of its alienation and its weight – along with the knowledge that a misspent life is the real danger that awaits Mark. It’s no laughing matter.
A Haunting is a philosophical play for post-modern times. It is intriguing to anticipate what inherent truths subsequent productions will tease from it.
Review by Loretta Monaco
“You should be careful, Mark. There are some really dangerous people out there.”
It’s Halloween, but Mark’s not going out. While his mum buries herself in work, he’s staying in, playing Xbox, and talking to Ghost. He doesn’t know his real name. It’s anonymous, and Mark likes it that way.. He feels like they can be honest with each other. But it turns out that Ghost knows more than he should. And he really, really wants to meet…
“As a sexually confused teenager, you have feelings and desires you don’t fully understand and aren’t sure you can express publicly. The internet can feel like a safe space to explore them anonymously. At the same time, you’re aware of the well-publicised dangers of the online world. A Haunting explores adolescence, the internet and the fears we have around it.”
A Haunting by Nathan Lucky Wood
VAULT Festival, The Vaults, Leake Street, SE1 7NN
15 – 19th February (9.15pm) Matinee 18th February (4:30pm)