There was a disturbingly eerie silence tonight in Southwark Playhouse’s largest space. Joseph Potter took his bows having just performed the world premiere of Philip Ridley’s The Poltergeist, but instead of the rapturous applause of a standing ovation this outstanding performance deserved, Potter was met with the cruel hush that is the painful side effect of digital theatre.
The auditorium should have been filled to socially distanced capacity with an audience thirsty for live performance. The production was always planned to be live streamed too, and the introduction of new, tougher, restrictions meant that this was now the only option left for theatre company, Tramp, to present this compelling monologue.
At the age of fifteen, Sasha was taking the art world by storm, a young prodigy commissioned for an exhibition. His career didn’t pan out as it should have, and now, hooked on painkillers, he and partner, Chet have to endure a birthday party for his niece. The group of characters that occupy this play, and his brother’s kitchen, expose the deep-rooted problems of the family, and the pain that has brought them to this point in their lives.
Potter portrays all the characters, as well as delivering Sasha’s internal monologue. It’s frenetic and almost exhilarating as this talented young actor flawlessly presents complex conversations, and develops characters with barely a breath between each line. Ridley’s darkly comic script leaps from the page in a masterful and accomplished performance that keeps the audience utterly enthralled.
The most intriguing parts come when Sasha maintains an affable front with his family, while letting the audience in to the secrets of his own, foul language laden thoughts. Of course, the pretence can only be kept so long before exploding in a savage and devastating outburst; the only part of the play where the other voices are drowned out, leaving Sasha to unload years of pent up anger.
With the entire stage to play with, director Wiebke Green has maintained that intimate feel that regulars at Southwark Playhouse love so much. The delivery, often direct to camera, feels raw and visceral but also strangely comforting. Ridley’s lyrical prose is complemented with physical theatre that sees Potter use body movement and facial expressions as another weapon in his finely tuned arsenal.
The Poltergeist explores the ghosts of a family’s past, and questions how reliable memories can be when the future relies on their recollections of events long gone. Suddenly Sasha’s disappointment in life feels relatable, as a tragic, but loveable, character emerges.
It will come as no surprise to admirers of Philip Ridley, that he has penned another jewel in the crown of theatre, but add in a tour-de-force performance from Joseph Potter and we quite possibly have one of the most remarkable pieces of theatre of the year. With or without a standing ovation, The Poltergeist is one of those rare and unmissable pieces that will be talked about for years to come.
The Poltergeist is livestreamed from Southwark Playhouse on Friday 20th November at 7.30pm and Saturday 21st November at 3pm and 7.30pm.
Main Image: Joseph Potter in The Poltergeist photo credit Martin Photography