The Haunting takes place entirely within a library. Designer, John Kerr, has made a long set, shelves stretched tall like a picture in the wrong aspect ratio, creating an unsettling sense of it being ‘off’ somehow. An excellent use of the space at the Athenaeum, the centrepiece is an enormous tree outside the room’s windows. It makes a horrid silhouette during lightning strikes, the bone-fingered branches reaching for the glass.
Comparisons with The Woman in Black are unavoidable. However, while that show relies more on placing the audience in the shoes of its lead, full of tension and fear, The Haunting, is more manipulative, preferring tricks instead of emotion for its frights.
Lights would drop and narrow on the leads for no other reason than for the Lady to appear in a different part of the room. It’s a shame because when moments of trepidation are organic – e.g. appearing and disappearing between lightning flashes – they’re wonderfully effective. Indeed, her best appearance – beating any of the other jump scares – has her most understated entrance and is utterly terrifying.
Both men played their roles well, carrying themselves physically and vocally as you would expect, considering their characters’ respective background and class. Cameron Daddo played Lord Gray pragmatic and humourless at first, making for an engaging performance as events force his passionless demeanour to give way to the irrational.
Gig Clarke as David Filde, however, heads in the opposite direction. Initially petrified by the intrusion of the supernatural, David is a man who chooses fight over flight, a not-always smooth journey that Gig played well. Something else Gig played well was the ending, selling a bit of chronological sleight-of-hand for the audience that for a moment seems so cheap you wonder what the playwright was thinking.
However, there’s a difference between nightmares and premonitions, and that final scene is far more intriguing, and certainly more eerie, than first thought. Wrap up tight, let the candle burn low, and indulge in a little mid-Winter spookiness.
The Athenaeum Theatre, 188 Collins Street, Melbourne
Season continues to 1 July 2017
For more information, visit: www.princemooproductions.com for details.
Image: Gig Clarke and Cameron Daddo star in The Haunting – photo by Nicole Riseley
Review: David Collins