Playwright Philip Ridley is known for his menace, his verbal gymnastics and the bleak lens through which he observes the world his characters inhabit. There can be no better set of tools or writer to implement them when it comes to a painfully uncomfortable family birthday that unearths childhood stories, family friends and a box of painkillers.
Sasha (Joseph Potter) is an artist. Was an artist. Could still be an artist. He currently serves in a stationer’s but was once the holder of the weighty title of ‘Prodigy’. With those days behind him and a series of events lurking in the closet, he faces the unenviable task of attending a child’s birthday party at his brother’s house.
With partner Chet by his side, they go from their flat above a dry cleaner, “The good thing is that it’s cheap”, to the car, to a chemist and onwards to the party. If the anxiety in the lead up to the party feels tense, the event itself is catastrophic.
Ridley puts the family dynamic and the satellite relationships that run alongside a family into sharp focus. The treacherous path one can tread with a sibling and an in-law is hard enough. Add an elderly neighbour, the in-law’s parents and a mate called Dougie into the mix, and you have powder keg set to explode.
The Poltergeist is a perfect storm of theatrical dexterity. Ridley has written a tightly woven, one-person piece that is as much of a ‘force of nature’ as the character of Sacha himself. Joseph Potter inhabits the tens of characters in Ridley’s opus as if each one could splinter off an tell their own 70-minute narrative.
On a bare stage, Potter leaves vapour trails of the ghosts of each character and with great skill manages to pick each one up where he left them without missing a beat. Director Wiebke Green navigates Ridley’s prose and Potter’s physical prowess like a maestro. Her lightness of touch and attention to detail is the driving force that makes these three practitioners’ gel so very well.
This is the very lifeblood of what live theatre is all about; an emotional rollercoaster that provides the spectator with as much of a workout as the creative team experiences. The Poltergeist is a tightly wound, highly disciplined and unashamedly relentless piece that, mid-lockdown, makes you desperately miss and wantonly crave live theatre of this calibre. An absolute triumph.
Originally published on Broadway World.
Full show details here.
Images via Southwark Playhouse.