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Ghostlight: The Unknown Soldier – Above The Stag Theatre | Review

Meticulously researched, Ghostlight: The Unknown Soldier packs in more content in one hour than some shows do in two-and-a-half. A lot of information is disseminated in a single act, and while it never feels like a quick-fire business presentation, a lot of past events are recounted by the title (unnamed) character (Harvey Ebbage), and not enough are dramatized. This leaves the supporting cast, wonderful as they are, somewhat underused.

Ghostlight: The Unknown SoldierThe show would therefore work better in one of several ways. One would be to ruthlessly strip away all other on-stage characters and develop the show as a monologue. Given that Aren (Bunama McCreery-Nije) already appears by pre-recorded video – seamlessly integrated into the live stage action, by the way – having the occasional additional voice can still be retained. Another would be to slow down the narrative, which proceeds at a borderline breakneck pace, even if this significantly adds to the running time. The soldier’s mother (Marie-Anna Caufor) is not heard from often enough, and I get the feeling there must be more to the character than being a devoutly religious woman with cult-like adherence to whatever her minister preaches.

Another option would be to retain the one-act format, but to set aside some of the detail. The story is largely set in Camden County, Georgia, with the soldier eventually finding himself in London on active duty for the Allies during the Second World War. I’m not sure whether the links to the modern era are strictly necessary, given the breadth and depth of the historic narrative. Various details about the Dominion Theatre on Tottenham Court Road (home to The Prince of Egypt at the time of writing) are supplied at the start of the show, all of which could be done away with, without any negative impact on the poignancy of the soldier’s life story and his experiences.

The soldier had some personal characteristics that counted against him – being black and gay in World War Two and the decades before it meant, to put it lightly, he had to be extra careful. The sort of challenges faced by him haven’t entirely gone away in this day and age, which is something of a damning indictment on how far contemporary society still has to go, though audiences are savvy enough to make the connections for themselves without a twenty-first-century backdrop. The soldier attempting to make sense of the coronavirus is mildly amusing (he wonders if there is nobody around because the Second Coming of the Messiah has occurred, for instance) but ultimately detracts from the more serious messages elsewhere in the play. And who really needs reminding that theatres were dark for so long?

The use of still images and video technology helps to provide some context to various scenes. Although rather clunky at present, with a greater balance between exposition and dramatization, the show has a lot of potential to become something that both fascinates and entertains.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Ghostlight: The Unknown Soldier is the first of a trio of one-act plays set in iconic London theatres. It’s a tale of forbidden romance, love and loss set against the backdrop of war.

We start during the initial part of the COVID-19 pandemic when all theatres were shut down. Our character inhabits a specific theatre space and gets a chance to tell us his story while trying to work out what has happened in the world and why his wonderful theatre is dark. We follow our black hero on his journey from racially segregated rural Georgia, to the West End of London meeting others important to him along the way. We see how his freedoms amidst times of terrible tragedy let him meet the man, who is the love of more than a lifetime.

The titular character is played by Harvey Ebbage, a recent graduate of The Urdang Academy. Harvey is an incredible talent who is destined for great things. His co-star Lewis Asquith is a seasoned theatre actor known for his parts in Joseph and Soho Cinders. This debut play is written and directed by Tamzin Cook, Co-directed by Sean Erwood and produced by Monsteers Artistry.

Creatives
Written /directed by Tamzin Cook
Codirector – Sean Erwood
Produced by Kyra Jessica Willis, Monsteers Artistry Ltd
Stage Manager – Adeane Hardy
Cast
Unknown Soldier – Harvey Ebbage
Travers- Lewis Asquith
Aren – Bunama McCreery-Njie
Momma / Miss Adelaide – Marie-Anna Caufor
Above The Stag Theatre
2 September 2021, 21:00
4 and 5 September 2021, 15:30

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