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Theatre review: Haunted Child 
19th-Dec-2011 11:18 pm
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Several weeks after disappearing without explanation, Douglas (Ben Daniels) suddenly appears in his family's loft. It turns out that following an accident he was taken in by a religious cult who appear to have brainwashed him. At first wife Julie (Sophie Okonedo) thinks she can get through to him and bring him back to normality but as his stay back at home continues (and the ceiling of Bunny Christie's design rises and falls depending on the levels of claustrophobia) Douglas relentlessly bombards her with his newly-acquired beliefs. Joe Penhall's Haunted Child has some amusing moments which benefit from the strong casting - Daniels gets to spout some funny cod-mystical bullshit while Okonedo is drily curt in her responses - but they're occasional moments in a rather dry play and there's very little of substance. At the interval there's the hope that there might be a plot twist coming up but as the second act reveals the real reason Douglas has returned I don't imagine many people would have been surprised.

We only see this family after the father's disappearance so there's no real context to who the people are - was there something about Douglas that might make him vulnerable to brainwashing? Is son Thomas' (Jude Campbell tonight, alternating with Jack Boulter) introspection really due to these events or was he a troubled child already? I didn't know so had trouble caring. The special effects by Richard Pinner were more of a talking point than the play (self-extinguishing candles and Daniels appearing to drink a bucketful of salt water in one go) which was a worrying reminder of Danton's Death and its show-stealing decapitations. I went with Jan and Ian, plus a number of theatrical tweeters were there, but nobody had much to say about the play itself, never a good sign.

Haunted Child by Joe Penhall is booking until the 14th of January at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs.
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