Haunted Review

February 16, 2010


There is something sadly lacking in Edna O Brien’s Haunted which played last week at the Gaiety Theatre. Despite some beautiful writing and polished performances I couldn’t help feeling intellectually peckish after emerging from a show whose language was all dressed up but had nowhere to go.

Neil Buggy fills Cyril Cussaks shoes(from this plays initial incarnation as a television drama) as the hen pecked house husband who spends his days ‘reading, dozing and tippling’, being passed over from job to job while his wife(Brenda Blethyn) works hard for the money managing a local doll factory. Childless following a still birth early in their marriage both attempt to fill the gaping chasm in different ways; her with her beloved dollies, he with his roses. They are at once cruel and caring towards one other and O Brien’s script gives both actors much to play with in presenting a realistic snapshot of aging love. But, while they fascinate each other and learn something new about each other every day, the fuel that reddens their fire is about to be doused out.

Enter Hazel(Cusak’s grand-daughter Beth Cooke), a desperate innocent who trades elocution lessons for what she is lead to believe are the cast offs of a lonely widower. Her chance encounter with Buggy’s Mr Berry hands him a lifeline in a world marred by the ups and downs of depression.

The part is desperately underwritten. There is no real mystery to her character, only missing pieces to a puzzle that is never  satisfactorily solved.Her supposedly beguiling entrance and her characters pointless twist at the end are rushed over  and there is nothing to her character that would make you believe she could light up the life of a depressed old spinster. Nothing, bar their shared love of language, to make you believe he would throw away the hard-won happiness he has with his wife to pursue her. And since she(the wife) herself is no slouch in the linguistic department even that tenuous link is undermined.

Buggy’s character too, despite being the plays protagonist, feels a little threadbare. An admitted adulterer we never see guilt for the pain he’s caused his wife or acknowledgment that he’s stolen her past, present and future, presenting it to another. We understand his motives-there are plenty of long speeches dedicated to his love of language and his obsession with Hazel-but there seems to be no acceptance of guilt, no realisation that he is toying with two innocent women. And his depression is handled too bluntly flying from boyish glee to a rattled roar with a few slumps in a chair in between.

As Mrs Berry, Blethyn is excellent. Constantly alert she manages to convincingly switch from quite desperation to shrewd observation, easily outwitting her husband, whom she knows better than he knows himself. Her want to keep the flame between them alive is balanced by her need to keep him on his toes and her weeping distress in what should have been this plays final scene is truly affecting.

But to much of this play reads like a dressed up short story with long monologues and little genuine interaction between the characters.Buggy and Blethyn, who play well off one another,  are let down by a script that, acted out, illuminates their life but is too wordy to let you feel for them. It is ironic that the penultimate scene, the plays best, is almost wordless. The move from in the round to the proscenium arch may also have cost this play much of its vitality.

What I  got from this play was Edna’s love of language and of literature, with  O Neil, Keats and of course the Bard being referenced throughout. What was missing was a depth to her characters to save them from drowning in other peoples words.

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