This isn’t, as a note in the programme for this production of Ghost About The House points out, the first show to feature a ghost or ghostly character or representation of a ghost (you get the drift). There’s ‘the Scottish play’, to go by its colloquial name, as it is still, even in these supposedly rational and enlightened times, considered bad luck to say the word ‘Macbeth’ in a theatre, though I suspect perhaps these days people continue the practice to honour a tradition or, as one actor told me, because they couldn’t be bothered with the irrational backlash that would ensue if they ignored the convention.
There are more recent shows, like Ghost Stories. But perhaps with the notable exception of Ghost The Musical, ghosts on stage are rarely as un-ghostly as the unimaginatively titled The Ghost (Joshua Glenister). The play has a double narrative running in the same location, a north London house. One of the series of scenes is set in pre-World War Two, and the other set in 2016, in the run-up to the referendum asking whether the United Kingdom should remain in or leave the European Union. The Ghost, making his presence felt in miscellaneous ways, is a wordless character, which by default places greater emphasis on methods of non-verbal communication. Glenister’s facial expressions whether in a speaking role or not – he doubles up as Ian in the pre-war scenes – are very much in the realm of ‘a picture paints a thousand words’.
There are quite a few scene changes to rattle through in this one-act play, which runs the two storylines side by side. But matters are not overly complicated – both stories are in chronological order. There’s a good mix of characters, from Lady Millicent (Sioned Jones), who finds herself answering her own front door partly because times are a-changing in 1936 and partly because, as this discerning north London audience quickly realised, there’s a cast of five, not twenty-five.
In 2016, meanwhile, Richard (Matthew Gibbs) shares a house with his partner Alex (Timothy Blore), but there’s a new love interest, Owen (Joe Wiltshire Smith), whom Richard brings home with him. There’s no doubting which ‘side’ of the European Union debate the production takes – objectively speaking, the play is too heavily slanted in favour of one position over the other, though it is careful not to hurl unnecessary remarks and insults at the ‘other’ side (phew!). But don’t be put off by the Brexit backdrop – the scenes set in 2016 are not about the vote, any more than the parallel story is about the Second World War.
The Ghost does not, in the end, do anything that extraordinary, but because he is unseen by characters still in the land of the living, he is able, for instance, to move Richard’s tablet computer from one place to another. This leaves Richard to blame Owen, being, as far as he can see, the only other person in the room, for moving things around. It’s this sort of sneaky but gentle humour that gradually turns darker before becoming tragic: not for nothing does Lady Millicent let out an off-stage scream then returns to the front room looking like, well, a ghost.
It does, admittedly, start to drag a little towards the end. The costumes, while perfectly reasonable, may not be anything to write home about, particularly the casualwear of 2016, but the costume changes can sometimes be remarkably quick. Overall, an enjoyable and witty production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
A hilarious, sexy, supernatural gay comedy
Set in the same grand Islington house, in two time periods. 1936 and the approaching WW2, and 2016 and the approaching Referendum.
Lady Millicent Lancaster’s son, Ian, is in love with the butler, Leonard. Ian has been seduced by a family friend, Eddie, who is trying to keep this quiet while pursuing Millicent. Millicent is also being wooed by a younger man, Henry, but can’t deal with Henry while she tries to avoid her darling Ian having to go to war.
London 2016. Ian, now a ghost, haunts his former family house, now occupied by Edward and Alex. Unacknowledged ghostly doings have split the couple and Edward lusts after a new young man, Lenny. The ghost recognizes Lenny as the essence of his long-dead love. Nita, Alex’ sister, has demonic children Logan and Rogan causing ongoing chaos. And the Referendum is approaching.
Ghost About the House is a hilarious supernatural gay comedy that combines sparkling Cowardesque dialogue with modern manners and concerns.
The Cast: Sioned Jones, Timothy Blore, Matt Gibbs, Joshua Glenister, Joe Wiltshire Smith.
Directed by Scott Le Crass.
CamplingHicks productions presents
Ghost About the House
By Matthew Campling
At King’s Head Theatre
7 June – 30 June 2018