Ghoulish attempt at A Haunting: exploration of the ghosts of our web falls flat at this year’s VAULT festival.
Described as ‘an intricate drama about the internet, intrusion, and what we try to censor of our own past’, A Haunting attempts to explore how we can never truly shed our histories in the age of modern technology. Archetypal teenage boy Mark plays a computer game, communicating with a sinister voice whom we assume is an online predator. After a nervous start, Roly Botha copes admirably with the challenging premise of opening with 30 minutes of dialogue with an offstage character. His performance is undoubtedly the best thing about the production; the regression from cocky teenager to perplexed child is nuanced and well-realised. This is a young actor to watch out for.
Mark’s corporate, go-getting mother appears unaware of her son’s teenage struggles as she worriedly prepares for a presentation about the branding of Complan (a supposedly humorous poke at the world of corporate advertising, which feels especially dated given the play’s hyper-contemporary subject matter). A series of phone messages are supposed to portray her confused attitude towards motherhood and her son, but the awkward and unsubtle text makes the attempt feel trite and insincere.
Izabella Urbanowicz as Anna is in possession of a gloriously resonant voice; however, her affected presentation does not sit well in the small space of The Pit. Whilst all of the parts are underwritten, her melodramatic performance adds little complexity to a very one dimensional character. On the other hand, Jake Curran’s Ghost tries to convey a contradictory, troubled and sinister man. This is just about believable, but one feels as though this could be developed much more effectively across the play, and that the character could be pushed much further.
Inevitably, the three characters meet, and an alternative version of a seemingly-established past is presented. At times, it is not entirely clear which elements are black humour and which are unwittingly funny, including one hilariously awkward moment involving a surprise mouth swab (that was a new one for me, proving there’s a first for everything in theatre). The cliffhanger ending of A Haunting is clearly designed to leave the audience questioning notions of identity and perplexed about our relationship with the web. Unfortunately it fails to deliver: events which are meant to mislead the audience are either too unsubtle to be effective, or hard to separate from the confused writing.
A Haunting attempts to tackle the relationship between the internet and our past. However, crucially, there is very little exploration of the specificity of the issues this presents. One leaves with the feeling that this story could well have played out ten or twenty years ago, and given that one of the most disturbing things about technology today is the speed at which it advances, it falls flat in its attempt.