Jerwood Theatre Upstairs at the Royal Court, London SW1
Opened 8 October, 2004
** / ***

Last weekend I belatedly saw BBC-TV's 1992 hoax-documentary Ghostwatch, starring Bríd Brennan (most recently seen on stage in John Donnelly's Bone at the Royal Court's Jerwood Theatre Upstairs). This tale of poltergeist infestation in a suburban home, apparently centring on a teenage girl, had, a friend assured me, terrified him when he was 12. My own credulity vanished in a puff of ectoplasm within the first couple of minutes, and my friend kept whimpering defensively, "I was 12!" It put in perfect context Clare Pollard's The Weather, which has succeeded Bone in the Court's Young Playwrights' Season.

Pollard's play is superficially set in the same haunted territory, although the poltergeist activity, the economic meltdown which we never see outside the family's smart kitchen, and the climatic revolt due to man's exploitation of nature (which is limited to a few gusts whenever the door opens and a semi-comic mantra of "Have you seen the weather out there?") all seem to serve as metaphors for the family's own troubles. Or possibly they're all metaphors for each other. We're never sure which are symbols and when, and nor, I think, is Pollard.

The 85-minute piece is written in an immature, stilted language, in which the attempts at daughter Ellie's precocious discontent, her boyfriend's comic slackerdom, her mother's arty-farty self-obsession and her father's long-suffering bluntness are all equally lumpen. Director Ramin Gray and a cast including Jonathan Coy and Helen Schlesinger as the parents do their best to give the piece either a plausible shape or some amusing moments, and the staging of the supernatural incidents (with bunraku-style black-clad supernumeraries) is nicely done, but you get the feeling they know they're on to a loser. The Weather would be a moderately promising work from a 16-year-old writer; from a 26-year-old Cambridge graduate such as Pollard with two volumes of poetry already published and a fair whack of television experience, it's verging on pitiful.

Staged as a separate late show afterwards is Robin French's Bear Hug, in which Coy and Schlesinger return to the same kitchen set, this time as parents whose teenage son has for no apparent reason suddenly become a bear. It's an agreeable slice of English Absurdism (David gets annoyed that Michael's claws have scratched the Volvo, while Linda offers the weeping grizzly a box of "tissyoos" with her bloody stumps), but slight: if there's any deeper meaning here, it never presses itself upon us... unlike Pollard's, which never damn well stops.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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