DramaLondonReview

To Be a Bat – London Horror Festival,  The Space

Reviewer: Rachel Kent

Writer: ariella como stoian

Director: Susie MacDonald

This play is a domestic drama about bereavement, a science fiction story, and a tale of first love. It is not about chiroptera.

The title presumably derives from the question made famous by Thomas Nagel: ‘What is it like to be a bat?’ This, (reduced to its simplest interpretation) suggests that one creature can have no idea what the conscious experience of another creature, eg a bat, is like. By extension, the play seems to be saying, no human really knows what it’s like to be another human.

A family has been shattered by the loss of a child, and each surviving member tries to come to terms with grief alone. The father seeks help in technology; Moi, the sibling, drifts off to a private ‘fort’; and the mother ‘spends all her time putting up posters of iconic rock stars’ (this is from the theatre publicity – on stage she just seems to be sticking pieces of paper to a fishing net).

Director Susie MacDonald has to guide the cast around a small stage, designed by Tina Stoian and the writer to represent various settings, including a cemetery, the scene of a neatly managed fight. Ghostly appearances are an old stage tradition. Here Henry Herbertson is admirably impassive as the new kind of ghost, a digitally remastered version of himself. A newer problem for directors is how to represent people communicating remotely. In this production two characters stand side by side; they might be in the same room, until it turns out one of them has left their camera on.

The most consistent acting is from Ella Faye Donley as the rather dangerous friend, herself damaged by loss. Aaron Lynn as Ferd is poignant when trying to capture the living essence of his son. Lisa Maeda is less convincing as the traumatised teenager than as the joyous one realising, with a blissfully sunny smile, that their first kiss was not a mistake.

The show is part of this year’s London Horror Festival. Although Zygmund de Somogyi’s music is haunting and Steven Frost’s lighting atmospheric, there is not much supernatural about it. Moi’s new friend wears black lace, is called Luna and pretends to be a wolf, but she fusses unspookily about snacks and demands real money for the drugs she provides. In the end, it’s just a play about what it’s like to be human.

Reviewed on 31 October 2021

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