thu 20/06/2024

The Enfield Haunting, Ambassadors Theatre review - muddled revisiting of famous paranormal events | reviews, news & interviews

The Enfield Haunting, Ambassadors Theatre review - muddled revisiting of famous paranormal events

The Enfield Haunting, Ambassadors Theatre review - muddled revisiting of famous paranormal events

Poltergeist activity in the suburbs remains earth-bound

Catherine Tate as Peggy after a power cutMarc Brenner

Reports of supernatural events are always met with either willing belief or dismissive scepticism. The "camps" generally don't have much to say to each other: belief in immovable logic, discounting the weird as merely the so-far unexplained, can be as entrenched as its opposite. In the case of the ghostly goings-on in Enfield, sincerity and mischief are also stirred into the mix.

Writer Paul Unwin seems genuinely fascinated by the experiences described by young Janet and Margaret Hodgson in late 1970s suburbia and unable to come down on either side, for or against the truth of their stories. For their part, the children, then aged 11 and 13 respectively, appeared to believe - this was true even decades later - that they had undergone something strange while admitting to indulging in playful naughtiness to add to the list of occurrences exercising the newspapers and television.David Threlfall as Maurice, Ella Schrey-Yeats as Janet and Grace Molony as MargaretBut why return to a well-worn tale that has already been looked at from all angles in various media, including an Apple TV miniseries? Unwin claims that his purpose is to try to understand what happened at 284 Green Street to single mother Peggy Hodgson (Catherine Tate) and her family. Unfortunately, this does not add up to a satisfactory play. Originally planned to coincide with Hallowe'en but delayed, it has arrived in time to be the West End's first offering of 2024.

There are hints that emotional upheaval in the girls' lives is causing them to do things outside their control. Can Janet produce the growling voice of an elderly gent? Does she really levitate or did the camera fixed in her bedroom by Society for Psychical Research member, Maurice Grosse (David Threlfall pictured above with Janet and Margaret), merely catch her in mid-jump? Perhaps the children's mostly absent father is the real source of fear, rather than a poltergeist? Grosse, meanwhile, has virtually moved into the household and is grieving the death of a daughter also named Janet, a fact woven into the Hodgsons' story by Unwin.

Mo Sesay as Rey

The play falls between two stools, neither a determined psychological analysis nor a satisfactory exercise in horror. There are some thumps, blackouts, screams and a weird "presence" but no jump-out-of-your-seat shocks. Given the subject matter, the result, under Angus Jackson's direction, is oddly one-note.

Catherine Tate makes the most of Peggy, desperately trying to protect her family, tired of intrusions from more privileged people, be they researchers or journalists. More could have been made in the script of the exploitative elements of the story, of Peggy's cry that she did not inhabit a zoo. David Threlfall makes Grosse a well-meaning but not reassuring presence, a mixed blessing in the Enfield house. Down-to-earth Rey (Mo Sesay, pictured above right), the neighbour, is also in his way an intruder: he will have none of the supernatural nonsense but does try to support Peggy, inviting the whole family to come home with him as "nothin' ever 'appens next door". Ella Schrey-Yeats and Grace Molony as Janet and Margaret are convincing as the kids, naughty but caught up in something they can't understand. And the whole thing is played out in two floors of a dingy house, designed by Lee Newby for maximum atmosphere and flexibility.

@heathermneill

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