Review: Haunted Child, Royal Court

“What does the banana do?”

Joe Penhall’s first work for the stage since 2007, Haunted Child, makes for a much different kind of festive show at the Royal Court than last year’s raucous Get Santa! and given his reputation, for plays like Blue/Orange, I was quite looking forward to this. But when the blurb on the back of the playtext starts quoting the play itself, you know there’s trouble ahead. “After attending an innocuous motivational course involving esoteric philosophy, Douglas mysteriously abandons his wife and son to ‘live in a specific, preordained way according to the tenets of a spiritual leader’.” Big words to cover up what is essentially a rather basic set-up.

Young Thomas is wetting the bed and acting up with his mother Julie as his father Douglas has gone AWOL. When Douglas suddenly resurfaces, the relief felt soon turns to dread as it becomes apparent that he has joined a ‘group’, the nature of which we slowly learn more about as he tries to impose his completely altered mindset onto his wife and child. And that’s about it. There’s a lot of talk about the effect of adults’ behaviour on their children which is nothing new, and not enough exploration into what pushed Douglas into such extreme behaviour and the seductive allure of organised cult-like groupings. Continue reading “Review: Haunted Child, Royal Court”