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The Poltergeist – Southwark Playhouse

Reviewer - Dominic Corr

Writer:  Philip Ridley

Director:  Wiebke Green

The level of dedication and pressure placed onto a “child prodigy” is a notoriously gruesome affair. And all too often this expectation snaps, and we find those of immeasurable talent searching out humble jobs with “normal” lives. Sasha is one such star who has dipped. From a young age, his was path set,; Sasha’s first installation planned for 15, already stamped him as an emerging artist. Following an undisclosed incident, Sasha’s life as an artist ends, finding himself working in stationers in a small flat with his boyfriend.

It’s easy to understand the bitterness, but snippets of an event, which crashed his life expectations onto a different path, are alluded to in conversations, but are never fully divulged. Philip Ridley’s script allows enough audience imagination to stitch together an idea, even one they can sympathise with, as Sasha and his ever-patient boyfriend endure the last thing we ever want. A family barbeque.

Ridley captures the intensity and flippant emotions found at a family gathering, to the extent that you’ll find yourself opening a bottle in solidarity with Sasha. It’s a compelling script, which finds roots in an authentic setting and never strays from a believable path; too easy would it be to lean on the crutch of comedy, and too troublesome to pour lighter fuel onto the turbulent relationships. Wiebke Green’s direction complements Ridley’s script, which is mostly seamless and able to reign in the undoubted bursting energy of actor Joseph Potter. Together, the trio stage Poltergeist as a warning of the toxic nature of sipping poison and awaiting someone else to die. Holding onto things is never the answer, and, often, nefarious secrets have their reasons for remaining in shadows.

The outstanding capabilities of Joseph Potter in commanding, not only a solitary stage but a stage with the distractions of home life is exceptional. There’s an understanding in Potter’s performance, coupled with Green’s direction that, in honesty, Sasha is a bit of an arse. Dismissive, snippy and unable to remember the names of relatives (though this is forgivable), Potter embodies someone vulnerable, with an obvious but icy exterior to combat this.

As the sole performer, Potter has the duty of carrying Ridley’s fast-paced script, and it’s a dangerous one to perform solo. There’re slipups at every corner, multiple characterisations to falter over and even the occasional breakneck back and forth. Potter matches each step splendidly. Despite the premise of a monologue, these ‘dialogue’ sequences build a dimension to the production and expand on the expectations we have for the story.

But perhaps most elegantly, if painful in moments, is how much this production shrieks for a destined physical performance. The world of online theatre has catapulted the medium into the homes and minds of people who would never have considered it viable. And every production, good, bad or terrible, has at one point reached to someone who perhaps thought theatre was exclusive or inaccessible through financial means. The Poltergeist is a triumph online, but one cannot help but know how much more mesmerically captivating this obnoxious aggression and angst would feel in a live theatre. Perhaps that, in essence, is the highest compliment that could be paid to Potter.

Reviewed on 20 November 2020

 

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