London Lookout: Haunting on the West End

‘Ello from across the pond! I am thrilled to be writing the first addition of London Lookout for the infamous Luner on Theatre blog! I hope you’re ready to read about theatre on the West End.

Last week I got a chance to see the new play Haunted Child by Joe Penhall (Dumb Show, Blue/Orange) at the Royal Court Theatre just down the street. The title makes it seem like a tale of ghosts and the supernatural, but it is far from a horror play. No. Instead of a thriller, in the Haunted Child you will see the haunting of the mind.

The play is set in a present day, average British home. The show starts with the son, Thomas, running down the stairs claiming he had seen his father in his room, a father that we quickly find out has been absent for weeks. This supernatural question is answer when the father, Douglas, comes down the stairs to reveal he has been home for the last few days. His story only gets stranger from there. Without revealing too much, Douglas has joined a cult, which puts the whole family in a state of chaos and to Douglas doing some very strange things. This includes drinking a bucket of salt water.

Haunted Child, instead of being about ghosts, takes an interesting view on how the actions of parents haunt or affect their children.

Ben Daniels (some theatre credits include Luise Miller, Les Liaisons Dangereuses [Tony nomination]), who plays Douglas, does an amazing job portraying a man who is being pulled in two different directions. Daniels exposes the character’s happiness with finding some sort of truth and displays the struggle to have both that and his family in a way that is not over exaggerated. The mother of the family is Julie, who is played by Sophie Okonedo (some film/TV credits include Hotel Rhonda, The Secret Life of Bees, Doctor Who). Okonedo is a film veteran, and that can be seen in some of her choices onstage. Those choices aren’t bad though because her performance still is a force to be reckoned with. The role requires Okonedo to be loving, compassionate and questioning, but still be strong, levelheaded, and stern. And she embodies all of those qualities in her performance.

There are two different child actors that play Thomas, the son. At my performance, Jack Boulter played the role. It took him a bit to really get into the show but after awhile Boulter seemed like a natural on the stage. His innocence contrasted wonderfully with the complexity of Okonedo and Daniels.

Jeremy Herrin directs Haunted Child. Herrin, who is also the Art Director of Royal Court Theatre, has directed numerous plays, including Kin, Spur of the Moment, Off the Endz, and four others at the Royal Court. He does an excellent job with Haunted Child giving it the strong sense of reality that makes the script believable.

The rest of the creative team, which includes Stephen Warbeck as Composer, Bunny Christie as Designer (Set and Costume), Jean Kalman as Lighting Designer, Ian Dickinson for Autograph as Sound Designer, and Iona Kendrick as Costume Designer, all work together to make a setting that felt genuinely real. So real that they had real working appliances on stage including a fridge, toaster, stove top, and record player.

Theatre itself is super charming. It has nice sized leather seats in its three-tiered seating arrangement. One thing for ANYONE seeing ANY SHOW in London, they DO NOT GIVE OUT PLAYBILLS. So if you want a memento, or if you want to see who you saw that night, you have to buy the program. At Haunted Child, the program is in the front part of the script, so it’s kind of like a two for one thing.

Haunted Child is a curious play about a family looking for hope in an odd and complex world. Although the script starts off on a slower pace, it continues to expose a glimpse of this family falling apart and search for answers. The show is quite heavy, but it is balanced with perfectly timed light moments. Although Haunted Child will soon close here, look for it over stateside. This play is sure to spook you in some unexpected ways.

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