It’s spooky season, so of course, it’s time to watch scary theatre productions, complete with a true air of menace and a few jumps along the way. That’s something The Nag’s Head, a Make It Beautiful Theatre Company production, has managed to pull off, but it’s combined with a lot of laugh out loud humour, which tones it all down and takes away that potentially nasty edge. This is a scary play for people who don’t generally like scary plays.
Three siblings, Jack (Felix Grainger), Sarah (Cara Steele), and Connor (Gabriel Fogarty-Graveson), come together after their father dies having lived completely separate lives for what seems to be a number of years (Connor doesn’t even know Jack’s girlfriend’s name, and they’ve been going out for 15 years). They have to take care of things, which includes his pub – The Nag’s Head – where they grew up, and which their father pretty much ran into the ground.
Discovering that scares sell after bumping into Dr G Host, a ghost tour guide (played in a wonderfully comic turn by Grainger), the siblings more or less decide to turn The Nag’s Head into a mecca for all things spooky, helped hugely by a weird painting that was mysteriously delivered on the day of their dad’s funeral and which appears to be cursed…
Along the way, we meet a variety of different characters who flesh out the story, including the strange and rather ominous Greene King, intent on turning The Nag’s Head into one of his own pubs, which are all about consistency. And then there’s Mary, Connor’s new girlfriend… well, we don’t exactly meet Mary, and to be honest, once you realise who she is, that’s probably all for the best.
The Nag’s Head has three strong central performances, with the cast playing off one another perfectly, to give off the air of being annoying siblings. They don’t really get on, but they still love each other underneath it all, and through the course of the play, that’s something the audience understands and, for many, it’s certainly something familiarly familial.
The scares are few and far between, but when they come, they’re effective. One particularly unsettling scene takes place in the basement when Jack bumps into an old friend who really shouldn’t be there, given that she’s dead and all, and the use of torchlight (that old campfire trick) really does make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
For the most part, however, The Nag’s Head feels more comedy than horror, and that’s no bad thing when the writing is as clever and funny as it is here. Grainger and Fogarty-Graveson have managed to make what is actually a story about possession and ghosts into something that resonates with all the people watching; we’ve all lost loved ones, we’ve all said things we wished we could take back, we’ve all found a cursed painting in the loft and hung it over our beds… no? Well, perhaps not that one, but the point still stands. And that’s what makes The Nag’s Head a joy to watch.
Written by: Felix Grainger and Gabriel Fogarty-Graveson
Directed by: Alice Chambers
Produced by: Make It Beautiful Theatre Company
The Nag’s Head plays at Park Theatre until 28 October. Further information and bookings can be found here.