Bitter, jealous, self-absorbed, childish, damaged. All words that spring easily to mind for Joseph Potter’s Sasha, the protagonist in Philip Ridley’s The Poltergeist. It’s a show that should have been playing to a full house at Southwark Playhouse, but following the announcement of the second lockdown, instead became a live streamed event. It almost seems like Ridley is cursed in that extent, given that the same venue was due to host his The Beast of Blue Yonder back in March, but that was also cancelled due to the first lockdown. Let’s hope there isn’t a third play in the pipeline, just to be on the safe side that we won’t be locked down yet again in the new year!
But let’s get back to Sasha. A child prodigy, destined for life as an artist, his first exhibition planned when just 15. Except somewhere along the way it all went horribly wrong. So now he works in a stationers and lives in a cramped flat above a launderette with his patient-beyond-belief boyfriend. Maybe it’s easy to understand why he’s so bitter, so full of anger and hatred for the world, but that doesn’t mean we have to like him. Especially as he is now an adult who can barely remember his niece’s name whose birthday party he is attending. It’s at this party that family and friends gather around Sasha, sharing conversations that hint at, but never quite reveal, what caused his life to go so terribly wrong. You know though that what is left unsaid will have to be revealed eventually, and it’s this wait to discover the darkest secret that keeps you on edge, wondering just what it will be, how it will be revealed.
The thing about one actor performances is that you have to feel something towards that sole person on stage, you need some emotion to keep you engaged when there is nothing else, no-one else, to distract you. And there is absolutely no doubt that in Sasha, Ridley has created a three-dimensional character who is brought to wonderful life by Potter’s performance. It’s credit to Potter that we probably want to love Sasha, even though he is, for 99% of the play, utterly obnoxious and thorough self-absorbed.
Even though Potter is the only figure on stage, between his performance and Ridley’s frantic paced script, the stage feels crowded. At often breakneck speed Potter shifts, with stunning ease, between Sasha and the multitude of supporting characters as he plays out those conversations. And as he does so, he slips in his inner monologue, the words he wishes to say instead of the polite ones that actually emerge through gritted teeth.
Compelling, absorbing, vital, frantic, unmissable. All words that spring to mind for Philip Ridley’s The Poltergeist. This really is a play that demands to be back come the end of lockdown, it is stunning online, one can only imagine how it will feel to see this in the flesh.
Written by: Philip Ridley
Directed by: Wiebke Green
Produced by: Jack Silver
The Poltergeist is currently available 21 November only. Check Southwark Playhouse website for details of any future performances or online replays.