Anger and trauma explode at a family do in Philip Ridley’s solo play, The Poltergeist. Restlessly troubled young man Sasha reluctantly agrees to attend his niece’s birthday party, supported by his boyfriend, Chet. Dosed up with hazardous levels of codeine and paracetamol, he struggles to keep his simmering rage and emotions under control as he is forced to confront complicated feelings from his childhood when he was proclaimed as an artistic prodigy. Like a disruptive spirit, he brings chaos everywhere he goes but, through love and compassion, Ridley suggests that demons can be calmed, if not completely exorcised.
In a terrific tour-de-force by Joseph Potter as Sasha, this is written as a monologue but he brings up to six people at a time to the stage in a dizzying but always lucid display of acting and narration. He seamlessly switches between the many different characters, often in quickfire conversations, while also sharing a turmoil of inner thoughts behind his fragile veneer of politeness. Directed by Wiebke Green, Potter’s Sasha commands the stage with tightly choreographed movement that adds to the frenetic energy of the piece.
Despite exploring dark themes around loss and guilt, The Poltergeist is full of humour, with Potter eliciting plenty of laughs through his pin-sharp timing. Sasha’s story may not be that remarkable but, through Potter’s intense performance, it gains epic proportions. The stage remains bare throughout, with only Chuma Emembolu’s lighting to illuminate Sasha’s mind as he shares his contorted multi-coloured vision of the world. Originally forced off the stage at Southwark Playhouse to become a digital production during lockdown, The Poltergeist now embraces the presence of a live audience through Potter’s masterful storytelling skills that engage with sometimes unsettling intimacy and directness.
The Poltergeist runs at the Arcola Theatre in London until 29 October 2022.