Through symbolism or metaphor, ghosts stories often tackle the psychological aspects of grief. And so it is in Ghosts Aren’t Real that we meet Max (Zoe Aronson), a 26-year-old woman whose father died 18 months ago. ‘Imagining’ poltergeist activity taking place in her father’s flat (which she now owns), Max decides to ‘reingage with the world’ by going on a date. However, just because Max is socialising again doesn’t mean that she’s left her worries or ‘the dead’ behind…
As Max’s date, Vanessa (Rhonwen Cash) is her exact opposite in temperament. In many respects, the awkwardness that ensues because of their differences and their respective faux pas makes the character-driven first half of the show, the strongest.
Aronson has the ‘hardest’ part in playing the ‘straight man’ – never over the top with Max’s reactions and often coaxing the audience’s sympathies. Her character’s ‘dry’ demeanour, however, does elict wry laughs from the audience, as her logical, measured responses are in sharp contrast to the other characters ‘eccentric’ behaviour.
Cash shows an aptitude for physical humour, able to non-verbally convey her character’s annoyance, frustration or curiousity with ease. The conversation Vanessa has with Max highlights the polarised opinions in today’s world, with at least one side citing no room for compromise. In the case of the ‘dating couple’, Vanessa’s unequivocal stance on both the ‘immorality’ of eating meat and that human beings ingest animals’ fear and ‘souls’ leaves no room from her for conflicting opinions.
As the play is a horror-comedy, it tonally oscillates between genuine moments of fright and elements of parody. The biggest of the latter is the character of “Jackson Marcus: professional exorcist and practicing psychic,” played by Tommy Moore. In many ways a cross between Terry-Thomas and a modern version of Madame Arcati (à la Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit), Jackson is an opportunist who professes to be an authority on the supernatural, yet downplays any genuine experiences others may have had.
While also being the writer and producer of the show, Jasper Dweck features in a number of small, but pivotal roles that leave a lasting impression with audience. The play at times has an overt emphasis on humour. However, under Hannah Beach’s direction, the tension that arises from Max’s reluctance to ‘rock the boat’ is very evident, even when she is being miscontrued or verbally abused.
© Michael Davis 2022
Ghosts Aren’t Real runs at the Etcetera Theatre, from 5th to 10th September.