Theatre review - The Poltergeist

When Sasha has to attend a family party for his niece’s birthday he can’t stop popping the Co-codamol. He knows that he will face an inquisition from his older brother, Flynn, his annoying wife, their family and neighbours.

As a teenager, Sasha (Joseph Potter), was considered an art prodigy but abruptly stopped painting his giant murals and feels only bitterness and regret. He shared his love of art and talent with his late mother.

Sasha now lives with his long-suffering boyfriend Chet, an out-of-work actor, in a modest flat above a dry cleaner’s in Ilford. It’s Chet who remembers to buy a card and thoughtful present for the five-year-old, drives them to Flynn’s house and attempts to keep Sasha on an even keel during the fractious exchanges. Over the course of the party we learn of the family betrayal that stopped Sasha’s heart and his art.

Philip Ridley’s one-man play, The Poltergeist, began life at Southwark Playhouse in 2020, but had to close after three performances because of the pandemic. It was filmed and enjoyed a successful run online.

Now Potter brings it gloriously to life on the Arcola’s stage. Over 80 minutes, he plays all the characters including Chet, Flynn and his cake-obsessed wife, as well as the in-laws, children, and other guests. He also switches at breakneck speed between Sasha’s inner thoughts (raging at perceived slights and mocking the inconsequential small talk) and what he actually says.

In Wiebke Green’s fast-paced production, Potter’s ferocity occasionally threatens to dilute our sympathy. Nevertheless, the writing is always engaging and Potter’s ability to transform into different characters with the flick of a wrist or a change in tone is impressive. This is definitely not a ghost story, but the reason for Ridley’s choice of title soon become apparent.

Warmly recommended.

Until October 29

Originally published by the Camden New Journal 

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