The Poltergeist by Philip Ridley – Southwark Playhouse, London – online
Philip Ridley has become the master of the Gothic monologue, a play taking place in the head of a single character spewing forth a turmoil of emotion. Shining a dark light on the ordinary, Ridley creates some fantastic, demanding parts for performers. It’s a winning combination, and his long-term partnership with Southwark Playhouse, where much of his new work is premiered, is one of the delights of our time.
The Poltergeist does not disappoint, despite being forced online by Lockdown 2. In fact, it thrives in a intimate, live screening, the empty seats adding to the atmosphere of psychological collapse. Joseph Potter delivers an apparently effortless tour de force as Sasha, a young man on a trip with his boyfriend from his East London home to visit his family in the suburbs. We don’t understand at first why he hates them so much – his brother, sister-in-law, nieces – but the picture comes gradually together over the course of a co-codamol powered children’s party. Potter is excellent at creating the interactions among a room full of people for the audience, and at communicating the rising tension as Sasha’s increasingly destructive behaviour becomes impossible to ignore. Ridley’s take on family banality is funny and dark in equal measure, with enough undeniable reality to make the story just about believable as it heads into the territory of the weird.
Everyone involved deserves praise for delivering such a visceral theatrical experience remotely. Director Wiebke Green has given Potter free reign to let his considerable talent loose, while Ridley knows how to probe at the insecurities of our age like no-one else. Our remarkable possibilities come with a proportionate self-doubt and dislocation. The Poltergeist is part of a body of work that tells a rich and strange story. When reviewers look back at early 21st theatre to understand the time and its neuroses, Ridley’s work will supply them with most of the answers.