The Evacuee* (Chelsea Theatre, 31 October 2013)

Posted: November 1, 2013 in Theatre

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews: http://www.thepublicreviews.com

Having begun life as one of a trio of short plays first performed in 2011 under the umbrella title of Dark Tales, this World War II ghost story has been expanded by Ian Breeds to run for 70 minutes. Sadly, the stretched out version is low on thrills and, even at this relatively short length, high on tedium. The central character is Janet, a young schoolgirl who is evacuated from war-torn London to a small English village; having witnessed the death of her brother in the Blitz, she is traumatised and unable to speak.Taken under the wing of Brenda, a local do-gooder, she is placed into the home of George, a whisky swilling widower (likely, even in the more innocent 1940s?), very much against his wishes. Quickly, it becomes apparent that George’s cottage is haunted. We know this because doors and drawers fly open and bang shut unaided, a music box opens itself to play Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, a rocking chair rocks voluntarily and the radio turns itself on just as Vera Lynn (obviously) is beginning a song. The set design (for which no specific credit is given) is the production’s strongest point. On split levels, revealing the living room and Janet’s small bedroom, it captures the right period feel and creates an atmosphere that seems to invite unworldly occurrences. Playing Janet, Maria Victoria Eugenio gets the best deal. Her character is mute so she is exempt from some of the most risible dialogue heard this side VE Day. Sarah Tyler Shaw and Mike Evans, as the two adults, are not so lucky, but they cope as best they can. Breeds gives all three characters back stories, but never develops them further. Each of them could be anyone entering a haunted house, it matters little who they are or where they have come from. This is a great pity as we have seen examples of how powerful a story of the supernatural can become when interwoven with real human drama. For example The Sixth Sense also dealt with an isolated and lonely child who saw ghosts, but the film packed a hefty emotional punch because it developed the child’s story.  In Breeds’ play, any sub-texts are definitely subsidiary and never substantial, making it just a routine and predictable horror story. Yes, there are a few “shock” effects, but these are no scarier than those that can be seen on the Ghost Train at any travelling funfair. This ride is a very hollow and rather pointless experience.

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