Johnson wrote Scary Play especially for the National Theatre Connections group which helps to promote young talent in Britain. The play focuses around a group of ten-year-olds whose attempts at scaring one another eventually lead to something far more terrifying than they could possibly have imagined.
As the night draws in, the gang’s leader Kal, played by Silas-Paul Simpson, tells the tale of an old haunted house that his father once broke into with the help of his friends. What they found in the bedroom on the top floor was so terrifying that they immediately fled screaming. Kal claims that what his father came across was the ghost of a man who had killed his mother and now roamed the empty house with his pet monkey. He then challenges the rest of the gang- do they dare sneak into the house that night? Boff, played by Luke Gell, the geeky member of the gang (and the David Mitchell of youth theatre) immediately refuses whilst the rest of the gang also have their reservations about such an adventure. Meanwhile Kal’s younger sister Lou, played by the bubbly Chanel Cresswell, has overheard Kal’s dare and promptly sets out to prove that she is not the baby that Kal so routinely brands her as.
Upon entering the house, the gang are split up into two groups and it is Kal’s group, with Mal played by Alan Graves and Jaz played by Anjli Mohindra, who reach the bedroom at the top of the house first. Somewhat predictably the murderous ghost known only as ‘The Man’ appears behind the gang and subsequently scares the living daylight out of them. As the play commences each of the gang’s fears are made explicitly clear to the audience whilst The Man feeds of them, resulting in a creepy combination of clowns, vampires and a blood-obsessed dentist amongst others. From his first appearance it became clear that Andre Squire who played The Man was the star of the show. Tall, mysterious and utterly terrifying, Squire showed conviction not only beyond his years, but his peers too.
This isn’t however to say that the others were completely overshadowed. Alan Graves’ performance as the nice but dim Mal was both charming and endearing. Furthermore, Luke Gell as Boff aroused bacchanalian laughter from the entire audience after just about every other sentence. As one might expect it was difficult to believe at times that the characters on stage were 10 years old, or 8 in Lou’s case, simply because the actors themselves were several years older than the characters they played. Having said this though, in a play containing ghosts, vampires and a rabid monkey, such a strong sense of realism was not that important.
The crew had put together a humorous stage set, fondly reminiscent of the animation in the ‘Funnybones’ series of children books. This combined with the eerie sound effects and haunting music made for a mixture of spooky yet amusing viewing. Credit is due to Ian Smith not only for his valuable work as the Director, but also as the driving force behind the Nottingham division of the Television Workshop who put on a pleasing performance of an agreeable play.
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