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Camden Fringe: Peaceful, Etcetera Theatre

Part of the Camden Fringe 2013
Polis Loizou
Presented by The Off-Off-Off Broadway Company
★★★★

Pros: The acting is superb, the story is compelling, and the sense of the spirit world is executed effectively. 

Cons: It was too short. At only 45 minutes, it was over too quickly. 

Verdict: This small-scale performance demonstrates how little is needed to create a dynamic and entertaining piece of theatre. It succeeds in every way, particularly in its aim to provoke fear in an audience. 
Courtesy of the Off-Off-Off Broadway Company
Upon entering the small theatre, I got a strong sense of the sentiment of this play. The stage was dimly lit. The actors were in their positions, frozen. No faces, only figures. The furniture was covered in cloths. I could hear the sound of wind, and other eerie noises. I took my seat and watched this tableau, waiting for it to come to life. It was haunting and unnerving, a very affective first impression. Furthermore I liked how in the opening scene, references were made to this experience. The characters talked about entering a room, and feeling someone is present, even if they didn’t make a sound. This subtle link demonstrates the level of thought and creative thinking in this production.

Peaceful is inspired by the real-life tale of Sarah Winchester, an heiress to a large estate, who believed her family were cursed. She became convinced spirits would kill her if she stopped construction on her home. Consequently it became a large labyrinth full of staircases and corridors leading to nowhere. The action of this play is contained to one room in the mansion. Yet through the cleverly written script, you can picture the scale and emptiness of the whole property. 

The play opens with Ethel Charles (Laura Louise Baker), the character based on the notorious renovator. She is talking with her contractor Mr Coburn (Polis Loizou) about the ghosts she believes are haunting her. She tells Mr Coburn she has invited a medium to visit, and help her make peace with the dead. Dr Villiers (Jaacq Hugo), the medium, arrives and is greeted by Mr Coburn, who believes the doctor to be a fraud. After some negotiating between all three characters, they sit and conduct a séance, inviting spirits into the room. 
To frighten an audience without any special effects is difficult. Yet this small production has mastered it with such conviction. There is a lot chilling imagery in the character’s words. The acting, particularly during the séance is strong and believable. The three performers don’t move very much, but their expressions, and wide eyes are intriguing and real. It’s hard to look away. Also the timing and use of silence which are key in any horror film or play, is spot on. I got a fright a couple of times, funnily at the simplest of things.
I praise this production because of its great and clever handling of a genre which can so easily become unbelievable and over-the-top. It is a finely crafted, well-written and entertaining play. 
Seen the show yourself? Agree or disagree? Submit your own review with our Camden Fringe Big Audience Project! 
Peaceful was at the Etcetera Theatre for three performances, 16th-18th August 2013, part of the Camden Fringe Festival. 

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