Danny Robins warns that one can slip into a state of hallucination when in a comfortable environment. I only wish I could have hallucinated some theatrics during the stage version of his podcast, Uncanny: I Know What I Saw.
We’re in the dark, the perfect place for ghosts, and Robins tells the audience that we are going to investigate supernatural stories together. Robins has excellent stage presence, and, as neon lettering flickers above his head, he recounts the tale of Matthew and Lisa and the poltergeists in their Victorian terrace.
Ghost stories are innately entertaining; we’ve been telling them for millennia. As Robin’s podcast and subsequent BBC TV show can attest to, there is great appetite for stories about what happens in the dark, and sharing these tales in an October theatre should be the perfect recipe for entertainment.
Despite Robin’s impressive track record (he is behind the Olivier-nominated hit, 2:22, A Ghost Story) Uncanny: I Know What I Saw lacks plot structure and narrative drive.
With appearances from Evelyn Hollow on ‘Team Believer’ and Ciarán O’Keffe on ‘Team Sceptic’, the so-called experts break down the case studies. O’Keffe is deeply frustrating as a sceptic; without any assertiveness to his claims, he seems to support the supernatural.
Robins assures the audience that Hollow and O’Keffe make interesting points, but I’m not so sure. Audience contributions are the most illuminating, but the source material does not provide enough gripping information to start with.
Things pick up in act two with the story of Dell, and the haunting of her 1974 childhood home. It is at this point that Robins gets into the nitty gritty of trauma triggered haunting, but it comes too late, and the stories are too historical to really scare.
Why this podcast became a stage show, directed by Sam Hodges, and designed by Zoe Hurwitz, remains a mystery. Retelling the hauntings could be theatrical. Lighting and sound design attempt to show rather than tell, but it’s half-hearted and poorly executed. At one point, Robins recounts an unrelated story of fear up an Irish cliff, his shaky legs trembling on an unconvincing set.
Listeners to the podcast can imagine what their mind’s eye most fears, but when we see it play out on stage, the wobbly stage door and overworked sound design do little to spook us.
With a playing time of over 2 hours, the unravelling of Robin’s podcast could have been an hour but, even then, Uncanny: I Know What I Saw is not dynamic enough for the stage.
Uncanny: I Know What I Saw is Touring until 1st December 2023, more information can be found here.