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  • Henry Longstaff

The Poltergeist - Arcola Theatre

The prodigy that grew up


Child art prodigy Sasha is still creating work, though now his studio is the corner of the living room he shares with his partner Chet. At fifteen, celebrities were eager to buy his paintings, and an exhibition was on the horizon but now no one knows who he is. What changed? At his young niece’s birthday party he is faced with the uncomfortable and conflicting past whilst battling addiction, crippling social anxiety and the nosiest of party guests.

Renowned playwright Philip Ridley has delivered another outstanding script in The Poltergeist. Utilising slight details from his own East London upbringing, Ridley is viscerally honest in his characterisation of trauma, addiction and riotous inner demons, leaving very little to the imagination. The voice he gives Sasha is relatable yet complex - his beleaguered pessimism for the world around him working hard as a shield from future distress.

Delivering Ridley’s monologue is the Offie-nominated Joseph Potter who is raring to go following the delay to the production due to the pandemic. Potter gives absolutely everything in his performance with stamina to rival an Olympic athlete. He moves swiftly between distinct characters, employing sheer emotional force to tell Sasha’s story. Whilst thrilling this performance risks becoming monotonous in its delivery as there is little respite from the breathless, and on occasion, shouty delivery.

For a production of this stature, it feels almost criminal that the lighting and sound components were not used throughout the piece - (despite a lighting designer being listed in the programme). Besides a gentle stage wash moving to a blackout at the conclusion of the play there were no noticeable cues accompanied by an oddly silent sound design. Whilst this might be a deliberate creative decision it is odd considering minute innovations in the supporting design have the potential to elevate the production further and help Potter maintain the emotional stakes.

The Poltergeist makes for an incredibly engaging and intense 80 minutes, with an overall exceptional performance from Potter and an ingenious script from Ridley but it cries out for some variety in its direction and design. With a little more craft and polish there is a gem of top-tier theatre ready to be released to audiences.

Running till 29 October - Tickets

Photography - Matt Martin

Originally published by London Theatre Reviews

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