Pros: Very exciting play that made a nice change from traditional drama and had me jumping out of my seat. The short-n-sweet length was also refreshing.
Cons: The audience’s entrance to the space fed directly onto the left hand side of the stage, and a few latecomers disrupted the mood. Maybe the set needed a barrier of sorts to allow for those spectators without watches or any sense of decorum.
A pitch black room; the chilling melody of a minor chord on repeat boomed into the atmosphere, filling it with foreboding. Once the smoke had cleared and the noise had died, lights came up on the scene: before me, the inside of a small cottage. The furniture, props, and dress of the characters all spoke well to the period of the piece, which was set in an English village during World War II. The audience could see two rooms of the house: the living/dining room, and the small bedroom upstairs, which would eventually house the eponymous ‘Evacuee’. The cottage felt typically old fashioned (it should do in 2013), and there were no anachronisms. It was simply but effectively done. The set design (Viktor Palfi) was especially smart because it lent itself well to all the frightening moments of the play, which came out of the space and build more so than the dialogue.
The resident of the cottage, George (Mike Evans), like many people living outside of the big cities in the 1940s, is required to take in an evacuee. It’s not a desirable situation, but as the playwright demonstrates it was a time when everyone in Britain was “doing their bit” to support the war effort – selflessness and sacrifice were mandatory.
George’s Evacuee – Janet – speaks not one word throughout the play; she has been muted by the death of her younger brother in London during a bombing. The child’s silence is dramatically effective; as the witness for most of the eerie and scary happenings within the cottage, Janet’s terror is amplified by her voiceless responses. We cannot know how she feels but we can certainly read fear in her eyes – and without words this fear engulfs her entirely. The lack of speech makes her hard to characterise, but I did feel pity for the girl, and she really drove the play’s sinister momentum. Wherever she went, the unnatural and unnameable would follow… it was certainly spooky!
This is one of the few ghost stories I’ve seen played out on stage, and I found it great fun. The director made really clever use of classic horror techniques – doors moving of their own accord, music boxes coming to life, and pictures falling off the wall. It was – like the set design – simple but ingenious. The paranormal occurrences dotted throughout the play created a pretty effective build of tension, so much so that when the penultimate moment of action came I was clutching my friend’s arm and grimacing. What would happen?! Suffice to say it was unexpected!
Watching this play on Halloween night made a nice change from smelly house parties and DVD marathons of the Final Destination films. Nevertheless, I would recommend this play to anyone who fancies a fright, whatever the season. Not only does this play use subtle devices to scare the wits out of its audience members, but it also has an interesting narrative, incorporating characters with tough lives and seductive histories. Watching the relationship grow between George (the grumpy, bookish host-parent) and billeting officer Brenda was very engaging. Evacuee Janet held the fear of the play, but Brenda and George held the humanity. I think this contrast is essential to any production that calls itself horror (without the contrast it wouldn’t be horrific), and it’s also the reason this particular production is a great success.
Disclaimer: My friend Jo is a scaredy cat and she just about managed The Evacuee with some mild screaming. I was just pleased she didn’t deliver on the promised dribbling of bodily fluids.
Author: Ian Breeds
Director: Ian Breeds
Booking Until: 17th November 2013
Box Office: 020 7352 1967
Booking Link: http://www.chelseatheatre.org.uk/