Pros: Doesn’t drag on too long.
Cons: Fails to make good on an interesting premise.
If you’ve ever wondered what happens when cute young white gay men die, this production has the answer: they live on as spectral beings stripped to their y-fronts. Thus unadorned, they decorate the stage, consolidating the King’s Head Theatre’s programming policy of “flesh is more” when it comes to characterising the gay experience.
Ghost About the House is writer/producer Matthew Campling’s attempt to create a sort of gay Blithe Spirit, with present day events being influenced by ghosts of the past. It’s an eminently workable premise, but unfortunately it’s been realised with a fatal lack of wit and sophistication. Noel Coward this most certainly is not.
On the eve of the Brexit referendum, politico Richard (Matt Gibbs) brings his much younger new partner Owen (Joe Wiltshire Smith) home to a house in which a Ghost (Joshua Glenister) makes its presence felt. Richard’s partner (estranged? It’s not clear) Alex (Timothy Blore) turns up and is unimpressed to find Owen lounging on the sofa in the property he co-owns. His sister Nita (Sioned Jones) is similarly annoyed, and offers Owen £3000 to sling his hook. The Ghost, for some reason, doesn’t like either of the siblings.
Back in the 1930s, in the same house, widowed Lady Millicent (Jones again) fusses over her spoilt son Ian (Glenister), who has been seduced by Australian Eddie (Gibbs) but is also drawn to servant Leonard (Wiltshire Smith). Henry (Blore) wants to woo Millicent, but it’s hard to fathom – or care – why.
The play flips between these scenarios without suggesting any convincing connection or parallel until the final act in which Owen and the Ghost develop a séance-like communion. This is by far the production’s most dramatically successful scene, but it’s sadly undermined when the significance of a prop spanning the two time-zones is rendered impossible by the plot.
The play says nothing original about sexual politics in the 30s or now, and shoe-horns Brexit references and the approach of the second world war for no meaningful reason, which belittles the very real consequences of both.
Director Scott Le Crass orchestrates the play’s back-and-forth structure efficiently, and the cast do a decent job of differentiating their roles. But the script is no more than a crude Coward parody in the historical scenes, and simply inept in the contemporary timeline. The poor dialogue and shallow characterisation make it difficult to take the production seriously – unrepressed giggles greeted some supposedly tragic late plot twists.
While the King’s Head’s commitment to LGBT+ shows is encouraging, it needs to impose a higher quality threshold on its visiting shows. It would also be refreshing to find them championing a less soft-porn approach; their gay audience members will come to plays without the predictably fleshy enticements.
Writer/Producer: Matthew Campling
Director: Scott Le Crass
Production Company: CamplingHicks Productions
Booking Until: 30 June 2018
Box Office: 0207 226 8561
Booking Link: https://system.spektrix.com/kingsheadtheatre/website/eventdetails.aspx?WebEventId=ghostabout