Photo: Bonnie Britain
There’s a strong whiff of Blithe Spirit in this fine play with an “invisible” mischief-making ghost (Joshua Glenister) onstage most of the time. The difference is that this is a powerful tale of gay love for the 21st Century. And it’s as funny as it is moving.
We’re in two time zones in the same Islington house. Widowed Lady Millicent (Sioned Jones) her son and their servants including Leonard (Joe Wiltshire Smith) live in it in the late 1930s. In 2106, the year of the Brexit referendum, it is owned by a pair of men who have recently parted – one of them, Richard (Matt Gibbs) is a comfortably off political Remainer activist. The fairly complex plot reveals what happened in both periods, how they interconnect and why the house is haunted. It’s quite gripping story telling. I’ll spare you the spoilers.
The casting is excellent. Each of the five actors (except Glenister who is Ian or Ian’s ghost throughout) plays two roles and it’s a veritable showcase in versatility. Sioned Jones, in particular, is terrific as floral-frocked Millicent with her slow, clipped RP and simpering manners which conceal steely understanding and an unhealthy touchy-feely relationship with her son. Then, moments later, she gives us Nita, a fast talking doctor’s wife in leggings and a big shirt rattling her car keys. She’s in an unhappy marriage sparring with her gay brother (Timothy Blore), cynical, knowing, bossy and anxious. Both characters are totally convincing. Jones’s performance is something of a masterclass in good acting.
Blore is strong as Alex, the estranged lover uncomfortable in the house but weaker as Millicent’s would-be lover Henry. Yes we laugh at the latter who’s absurdly, defensively British, profoundly, arrogantly shocked by what he calls “sodomites” and passionate in his wooing but the stereotyping goes too far and he becomes a caricature.
Wiltshire Smith is enjoyable as the young Welsh love interest who comes between Richard and Alex and impressive as Leonard, the troubled gay 1930s servant who eventually finds resolution. Gibbs finds plenty of cool seriousness in Richard who is also very worried about the Referendum as well as what’s going on his personal life. At the same time he’s warm and passionate, especially as Eddie in the 1930s.
I was initially doubtful about the depth of Glenister’s acting – much flitting about the stage in a pair of white Y fronts - until a powerful moment towards the end when he suddenly morphs into something different and shows the anguish of the real Ian when the character stops posturing. Bravo.
Playwright Matthew Campling has a Masters Degree in Psychotherapy and many years of therapeutic practice under his belt. He clearly believes that many of us are – at some level – “haunted” by the past. I’m sure he’s right. And it certainly makes an arresting subject for drama as many playwrights from The Greeks and Shakespeare to Ibsen and Noel Coward have shown. I hope his new play gets the rosy future it deserves.
Photo: Bonnie Britain