10 October 2014

Ghost From A Perfect Place at the Arcola Theatre was astonishing

I had good reasons for going to see Ghost from a Perfect Place at the Arcola and when I got there I discovered more good things that I was not expecting. As a result I had an exceptional evening, the sort of evening that I get only a few times a year of going to consistently good theatre. I'll try and explain why it was so good but I doubt that I will do it justice.

Ghost From A Perfect Place (or Ghost as I will now call it for brevity) came in a deluge of theatre trips that I was desperate to fit in before disappearing abroad on holiday for a couple of weeks. The only free slot I had was Friday and that meant a long return journey from Richmond to Dalston. Ghost already had a lot to live up to.

The trip to Arcola while fairly long was easy, the Overground could have been designed for me, and I got there in good time for a little something, coffee and cake, before the show before taking a beer in with me.

The Arcola does numbered seating now and I had booked myself in the front row of the central block. This is where I prefer to sit and whereas I could get there by being quick in the queueing this time I managed it by being quick in the booking. I find queueing easier than booking (that requires organisation) so I am probably going to have to get used to sitting somewhere else.

The play opened (and remained) in the kitchen of a flat that obviously been the scene of a fire.

Alone in the room was an old woman, and the first surprise of the evening was that the woman was none other than Madge (Sheila Reid) from one of my favourite TV shows, Benidorm!

An urgent ringing of the doorbell announced the arrival of a smartly dressed man. Once let in she realises who he is but it takes him sometime to recognise her.

He was an old-style villain in style of the Kray twins and the conversation soon turned to the old days.

The storytelling style was innovative, that is I had never seen it used before, with the characters acting out the scenes that they were talking about this. We learnt some interesting things about his brutal past and her former job as a cinema usherette from which she had earned the nickname "Torchie". This is when he realised who she was and why learnt the circumstances of their meeting.

The old lady had to leave but the man was waiting for somebody so he stayed. Just before the interval the girl he was waiting for arrived and she was soon by her two friends and fellow gang members.

After the beer break the mood got even darker as the women turned on the man while he laughed at them contemptuously and compared them unfavourably with people from his past. The girls then told him the story of their gang which was, another innovation, presented as something as a cross between a narrative poem and a church service with the two followers saying their equivalents of "amen" at the appropriate points. It was very different and very effective.

The story got even better too as we learnt more about the man's more recent past that had led him back to his roots and his more distant past and its links to the present day. I will not say more as I do not like to do spoilers so you will just have to trust me wham I say that the story was brilliant with lots more more twists and shocks. This was the first Philip Ridley play that I had seen and I made a note to look out for more.

The cast was superb too. At the centre of this was the ghost from the past, the former gangster played by Michael Feast who was fantastic with oodles of swagger and bravado.

To summarise all this, this was a great story told with some innovative techniques by good actors. And that is why I found it exceptional.

After the show I had a quick chat to the bloke sitting next to me but only because he had sat to me previously at another theatre. I also had a quick chat with Sheila Reid, once the Benidorm fans had got their autographs, to say how much I enjoyed her performance in this play and in Benidorm and to reminder that we had spoken briefly previously at the Old Vic.

These chats were the icing on the considerable cake but even without them this was an astonishingly good evening at the theatre.

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