Ghosts on a Wire by Linda Wilkinson. The Union Theatre, 229 Union Street, London SE 1 to 8 October 2022. 3***. William Russell

The idea is clever, but the execution of this green message drama in which the ghosts of Hester Thrale, William Blake, Mary Shelley and Michael Faraday confront the people building – or opposed to the building of – a vast coal burning electricity plant in Southwark which will light up London north of the Thames but destroy the local environment and community in dramatic terms is a bit of a mess. Act One ends with a whimper leaving the audience unsure whether to clap or go home – some did the latter – and Act Two includes about ten minutes before the end just when the message, and there is one, was coming across a truly appalling sing song round the piano.

The gimmick or inspiration is to assemble the ghosts of Mary Shelley, a woman who uses electricity as a creative thing in her novel, William Blake as a man who favours all things natural, Hester Thrale, and Michael Faraday who also used electricity and then confront them with what is going on as capitalism, represented by the MP building the monster project battles with Octavia Hill, who campaigned for safe spaces for women among other things. It is a complicated confrontation and simply does not work as clearly it ought. There is, however, a nice sub plot involving the landlady and landlord of the Southwark pub destroyed by its proximity to the industrial horror that is the plant.

One plus is that the production makes imaginative use of the Union space’s back brown brick wall on to which are projected scenes of London, of the mammoth plant, and images of the devastation. Seldom has that wall been put to such good use. The performances the night I saw it started off extremely shakily, but by the end Gerry Farrell had created a rather intriguing Hill, tougher than one might have thought, and Ali Kemp a touching Sarah Shelfer, the pub landlady devasted by the ill health the plant brought to her beloved borough.

Hester Thrale, Sarah Shelfer: Ali Kemp.

William Blake, Edmund: Timothy Barker.

Michael Farada, Benny, George: Tom Neil.

Mary Shelley, Harriot Yorke: Deborah Klayman.

Octavia Hill, Mrs Cook: Gerri Farrell.

Dr Lyon PLayfair MP, William Shelfer: Andrew Fettes.

Creative team: Jack Baxter, Martin Butterworth, Ben Bull, Adrian Chappell, Chris Lince,Penn o’Gara, PK Taylor, Sima Vaz, Linda Wilkinson.

Production photograph: Martin Butterworth.

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