There are many interesting angles or routes a play on internet grooming and protecting teens from explicit online content could take. Why writer Nathan Lucky Wood chose to turn what could have been a horror story with an important message behind it into a worn out, soap-like drama is a mystery. A Haunting begins with fifteen-year-old Mark (James Thackeray) playing a violent video game in his bedroom, whilst simultaneously speaking in a chat room to an older male (Jake Curran) who he knows only from the internet. The figure online – whose name we never learn and who is referred to in the programme as Ghost – coaxes Mark into describing his fantasies, and also sends him videos of Isis propaganda. This premise has the potential to unravel into a story both sinister and poignant, but disappointingly it doesn’t. Instead, the hour-long piece of theatre ends with Mark’s mum Anna (Beatrice Curnew) helping an intoxicated Mark home from the wood by their house, after Ghost has met Mark and convinced him that he is his father.
Whilst the plot is frustratingly implausible, Wood’s characters are strong, his narrative is fluent and much of the play is darkly funny. Ghost’s family-orientated fantasy, involving cooking spaghetti bolognese for Mark and Anna, has the audience in hoots, as do the interactions in which Mark and Ghost bounce off each other: “I’ve never done this before,” says Ghost in a vain hope that Mark will sympathise with the fact he is the first minor Ghost has met from the internet. “Is that supposed to make me feel special?” retorts Mark to a supportive chuckle from the audience. All three actors breathe authenticity into their characters, with Curran’s Ghost aptly fulfilling the role of the shy but quietly dangerous, travelling drug dealer Wood reveals him to be. Thackeray is particularly impressive in his portrayal of Mark, a fifteen-year-old hovering between adolescence and adulthood. Thackeray captures and portrays the innocence, curiosity, anger and other mixed emotions churning through his character’s thoughts. Curnew is every bit the working mother, warming us with her voiced insecurities and her combination of protectiveness with a determination to give her teenage son his space. Her character also offers some light relief from the more disturbing bedroom scenes.
It is a shame that though written well and performed by a talented cast, A Haunting falls down on its plot which could have been developed in a more profound and revelatory way.
A Haunting is playing the King’s Head Theatre until 30 July. For more information and tickets, see The Kings Head Theatre website.
Photo: Chris Tribble