Review: Ghost Quartet, The Boulevard Theatre

Think back to the last time you sat around a campfire, literally or figuratively, shoulder to shoulder with friends or strangers. Ideas bounce back and forth, sparking stories which are passed around until you no longer know if a tale has finished or has just begun. Staged at the newly opened Boulevard Theatre in Soho, the London premiere of Dave Malloy’s Ghost Quartet conjures up feelings reminiscent of ghost stories and fairy tales told around a fire. 

Influenced by the idea of a rock concept album, Malloy’s music is a feast of punchy folk, electric jazz and longing ballads. The actors Zubin Varla, Carly Bawden, Niccolò Curradi and Maimuna Memon move between their different characters and instruments like spirits, inhabiting everything from innocence to intrigue. Varla and Bawden give a tantalising performance of the track ‘Soldier and Rose’, Bawden as the twirling seductress and Varla the ghost-haunted soldier. Track 4 of side 2, titled ‘Fathers and Sons’, sees Curradi and Memon live out the rougher side of familial relationships: the drama of a drunken father telling his son to leave is perfectly balanced against the pair’s comedic chops.

Ghost Quartet tells four interwoven stories, with director Bill Buckhurst keenly weaving them together in one moment, before ferociously driving them apart in the next. The tale of two sisters in love with an astronomer, a starchild stolen away from her mother, a family’s descent into grief-stricken madness and the contemporary tale of a subway murder. The swift changes in style and tempo of the music do away with our need for a consecutive story, as we begin to submit to the music and the emotions it sparks.

Simon Kenny’s set is a jumble of musical instruments, old brass lamps and knick-knacks. Piled up in the centre of the stage is a collection of travel trunks which the actors sit and climb on, cleverly levelling the production in such a small area. The set is space and timelessness, an antique store or a forgotten attic. Emma Chapman’s lighting envelops everything, rising through the ceiling and seemingly bleeding into another ghostly dimension. At times the lights pulse in time with the drums, blinding the audience and intensifying the fast-paced disorientating nature of the action, only to fall away completely during the track ‘Lights Out’, as a bedtime story is told and specks of dust dance around the lights of the tech booth. It is simultaneously cosy and spooky.

It is fitting that a circular story with no real beginning or end should be told in a circular setting. Ghost Quartet and the gorgeous new Boulevard Theatre are a match made in heaven and the perfect addition to ghostly late October hauntings. If you need a break from the drudgery of the here and now and are ready and willing to be whisked away into the realm of spirits within the intimate frame of a rock and roll album, welcome to the Ghost Quartet.

Ghost Quartet is playing at the Boulevard Theatre until 4 January. For more information and tickets, visit the Boulevard Theatre website.