Admit it. That title either instantly draws you in or completely puts you off. But you need to throw away any first impressions you may have, disregard the show name and take a risk. Because sometimes a title really doesn’t tell you anything. Sometimes it simply hides something rather beautiful.
Joe Facer and Beccie Allen are Alex and Maggie, brother and sister. And yes, they do start ghost hunting in an old school house, so the title is factually correct. But outside of a strange knocking that turns out to be the pizza delivery and a few flickering lights, there are no actual frights to be had. Instead the first act fantastically lays the groundwork ready to hit us hard come the second. The siblings squabble and reminisce about everything and nothing, allowing us to learn all we need to know, providing them with enough depth that we care, and I mean REALLY care. We know by the interval that Alex struggles with his anxieties and OCD; “I have to film myself locking the door every time I go out” he tells us as proof. His sister Maggie is his polar opposite; confident and outgoing, but has spent her childhood filling the void left by their mother’s death. What we also know is that they both desperately miss their mum, whilst their dad – well, they seem to differ on their opinion of him.
It’s a first act that’s fast-paced and filled with soft humour, making you love this brother and sister combo. So much so that come the interval you really hope Alex discovers the ghosts he so desperately wants to find just to give himself something to hold onto, and maybe fill the void in his life. What it doesn’t do is prepare you for what’s to come. We jump forward in time but find ourselves back in the same old building. The lovely charm of the first act remains, but there is a poignancy beneath it as we learn the different directions their lives have taken, and where their lives may go from here.
It’s the writing of Facer and Adam Sandy (who also directs) that makes Alex and Maggie Go Ghost Hunting so beautiful. The charm and humour pull you in from the very start. Facer’s Alex has a nervous energy around him as he expresses his anxieties, whilst Allen’s Maggie gives off a much more carefree vibe. Both give performances worthy of the writing, but it is Allen’s transformation in the second act that is perhaps the most striking and likely to bring a tear to your eye.
Lighting and sound are kept minimal, avoiding any distraction from that script. Similarly, the set is kept simple; a white sheet draped over chairs to suggest a childhood den, a nod to Alex’s still childlike outlook of the first act. Sandy’s directing keeps siblings bouncing around throughout the first half, as if they need to keep moving, to run away from their realities, helped further by making full use of The Space‘s lovely building, forcing us to crane necks as they wander down the centre aisle.
So, if it’s not a play about ghost hunting, what is it? It’s a story of loss, hope, sibling love and that age old desire to escape from a dead end existence. Its a play that will charm you before hitting you hard as you discover who the real ghosts of the story are. And it is without doubt a play whose title should be ignored as a red herring. Ignore the title and everything that it paints in your mind: this is beautiful and poignant and a play that I already want to see all over again.
Written by: Joe Facer and Adam Sandy
Directed by: Adam Sandy
Movement direction by: Ewa Emini
Produced by: To The Ocean
Alex and Maggie Go Ghost Hunting plays at The Space until 4 November. A recorded livestream version is also available for two further weeks after the last performance. Further information can be found here.