by Joe Penhall.
Royal Court (Jerwood Theatre Downstairs) Sloane Square SW1W 8AS To 14 January 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu (from 22 Dec) & Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described 14 Jan 2.30pm.
Captioned 11 Jan.
Post-show Talk 4 Jan.
Runs 2hr One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7565 5000.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 9 December.
Odd coupling of the suggestive and the unconvincingly explicit.
In his first play Some Voices, premiered at the Royal Court’s Theatre Upstairs in 1994, Joe Penhall achieved a light skein of dialogue, its suggestions more resonant than its statements. Perhaps his most famous play Blue/Orange (Cottesloe, 2000) looks squarely at its issue, the investigation of a complaint against a doctor. Now, back at Sloane Square but in the main, downstairs auditorium, his new play Haunted Child is an uneasy mix of the two dramatic methods.
Something haunts 10-year old Thomas. He believes he’s seen his absent father in the family home. His mother Julie assures him otherwise. But Douglas is there. Yet not quite, for he has come under the influence of a cult that washes away the doubts of everyday life with a system of certainties and rituals that include drinking bucketfuls of salted water.
Returning dishevelled, Douglas is caught between this and desire for Julie. Penhall clearly wants us to see her love for the husband beneath the convert, and his physical desire for her as good and natural, and the cult belief as false and destructive. Which it is, being loaded with negative aspects. It’s supposed release from the pressures of life is actually anxiety-inducing, the tense exaltation Douglas tries for finally revealed as founded (less than convincingly) on fear.
But this concrete information, very real in the manner of Blue/Orange, undermines the more suggestive element that “the Child is father to the man” with its Wordsworth-like link between the ages of man; at one point Douglas asks if Thomas is his father, while the boy inclines towards his mad dad rather than sensible mother.
Sophie Okonedo gives her a maturity of manner, in her well-balanced voice and attempts to calm Thomas’s anxieties, while Ben Daniels catches the nervous energy of someone caught by a frightening certainty and unable to break its grip. Jude Campbell (and, I’m sure, at other performances Jack Boulter) shows the wary caution of a young person caught in an inexplicable dilemma and looking for certainty from his parents. But, despite the honest work of Jeremy Herrin’s cast, it rarely rings true.
Julie: Sophie Okonedo.
Thomas: Jack Boulter/Jude Campbell.
Douglas: Ben Daniels.
Director: Jeremy Herrin.
Designer: Bunny Christie.
Lighting: Jean Kalman.
Sound: Ian Dickinson for Autograph.
Composer: Stephen Warbeck.
Costume: Bunny Christie, Iona Kenrick.
Voice coach: Alan Woodhouse.
Fight director: Kate Waters.
Assistant director: Caitlin McLeod.