REVIEW: HAUNTED (Asylum Chapel) ★★★★
We are sat in the chilled air of the Asylum Chapel, bathed in darkness with our heads aloft, admiring the spectacular stained-glass windows and distressed interiors (this is certainly an apt location for a haunting) when in stumbles a terrified-looking man (Steve Fitzgerald) in search of his sister. He discloses that his family has been haunted throughout multiple generations, tied to this chapel in a myriad of miserable and horrifying circumstances.
The action includes a sequence of three narratives, unconnected except for their tie to the ghostly setting. We have an unhinged young woman in her thirties, visibly traumatised as she recounts the tale of how her third husband met a grizzly end (Sara Lynam). A young man guilt-stricken over the tragic death of his young son (Connor Meddings) seeks shelter from a ferocious storm and meets an oddly ethereal, unhinged woman (Jaqueline Ozorio) who leads him to confront his demons. Finally, a duo intent upon summoning ancient gods via the chanting of satanic rites (Katy Mulhern and Paul Linghorn) summon the darkness within themselves instead.
Theatre company Uncanny Collective credit their inspiration for the tales of ‘Haunted’ from M. R. James, Sheridan Le Fanu, H. P. Lovecraft and other legends of the genre. However, I noticed a particular correlation with the work of Edgar Allen Poe, found in the gradual, intrepid way that tension was built in each of the narratives and culminated suddenly in a dramatic, heart-quickening conclusion.
The Asylum Chapel was a grand and fitting location for this performance, adding an authenticity to the content that a conventional theatre space could not provide. With roughly thirty seats placed in the centre of the vast chapel and the action happening in the aisle as well as ground-level in front of us, the production had an immersive feel to it.
The content is particularly heavy at certain moments – dealing with themes of child death and psychosis, to name a few – but nevertheless has numerous pockets of humour dotted throughout, lightening it where necessary.
I felt convincingly transported to a different era with the start of each new narrative, noticing the decades of difference in the change in clothing, speech and use of the ever-ageing chapel. Small details such adjusting the speech to the time period make a big difference when characterising a generational narrative, so that the great-great grandmother doesn’t sound as though she would fit in with her present-day relatives.
I would have liked to have seen the location used to greater effect, as this was a unique opportunity to make the most of an ideal setting. Use of lighting could have been more experimental, especially during the incantations scene, perhaps projecting imagery on to the high walls and taking advantage of the shadows cast by the building in different corners. Equally, having the action take place in the middle of the chapel instead of at the far end may have added a more exciting level of immersion, instead of the audience facing one direction.
Uncanny Collective have shown a propensity for the macabre and all that thrills, producing a script that echoes the best purveyors of the horror genre. They have at their helm a collection of skilled playwrights and accomplished performers, well-suited to the challenging feat of raising tension and unearthing unease in an audience. ‘Haunted’ is a perfect precursor to Halloween that gets you in the mood to be spooked – a clever and chilling debut.
Reviewed by Laura Evans
FOLLOW WEST END WILMA