Review: Ghost Story With Small Cast Delivers Big Scares

The Glow, Royal Court Theatre ★★★★☆

Mike Clarke
By Mike Clarke Last edited 26 months ago

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Review: Ghost Story With Small Cast Delivers Big Scares The Glow, Royal Court Theatre 4
Ria Zmitrowicz and Fisayo Akinade are part of a small cast that works wonders. Photo: Manual Harlen

How does a small theatre fare, putting on a ghost story with sci-fi undertones, in this era of Netflix megabudgets, American Horror Story and even Doctor Who getting top-notch SFX?

Very well, if The Glow at the Royal Court is anything to go by. Given its limitations — cast of four and the difficulty of creating tension and menace in front of a packed house — it wisely chooses to start in the spooky basement of a Victorian asylum. Add the mysterious 'Woman' character, who has a gift (or is it a gimmick?); a flaky spirit medium, all gauze and theatricals; and her mildly terrified sidekick — and we're off to a good start in a play that spans worlds and time.

Ria Zmitrowicz and Tadhg Murphy. Photo: Manual Harlen

The staging's the star, with well-thought out use of sound, light and physical effects to switch between eras, and convey the otherworldliness of 'Woman' when she frees herself of the bonds of fraudulent psychics.

Playwright Alistair McDowell likes to immerse his audience, and act one pulls us in like a tarot reader at a fairground. Dialogue is fluid and spare, creating space for the imagination, supported by economical direction from Vicky Featherston. Rakie Ayola and Fisayo Akinade combine multiple roles and make the tiny cast a benefit rather than an obstacle.

Rakie Ayola plays multiple roles in the ghostly tale. Photo: Manual Harlen

If act two doesn't quite have the same grip as what precedes, it's maybe down to the shock value of the play's early scenes, as well as an overlong epilogue to round it out (lengthwise it starts to resemble Agatha Christie's Poirot in a drawing room).

But don't let this detract from an evening of tense, ethereal entertainment — ghostlier than a net curtain billowing by your bedside at midnight.

The Glow, Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, SW1, £12-£45, until 5 March

Last Updated 28 January 2022