Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, London SW1
Opened 13 June, 2008

Possibly the worst thing I have ever seen on a stage was a cack-handed attempt to invoke the atmosphere of Japanese ghost/horror movies. It’s some kind of relief to see that it can after all be done. I’m not sure if that is what Anthony Neilson had in mind for his latest devised/written-up piece; I’m not sure about much of its 80 minutes, though there is a great deal seething around in an obscure gumbo. With Chahine Yavroyan’s rigorously dim lighting and Miriam Buether’s set fronted by a scrim, an air of unreality, of dream-impenetrability as well as discomfiture pervades it. Dreams seem to play a part, and/or an experience of near-death or actual death. The title reverberates in several senses: as well as simply moving house, connotations of a sleeper agent (ha!), a criminal given a new identity after release from prison, abduction and afterlife all flicker through.
As we enter, Marjorie is hoovering. She falls unconscious, and on recovery (?) is told, “It’s time to move on.” Suddenly she is a teaching assistant, speaking to her new neighbour Kerry; in a blackout, they switch identities without explanation. Marjorie, Kerry and a third woman, Connie, all appear linked somehow. A missing, probably murdered child is an offstage presence, as are two young girls “upstairs”; another strand concerns a man who imprisoned his daughter in the basement for years and who may now be living in this town... So we have echoes of Ian Huntley and Maxine Carr, Josef Fritzl (one strength of Neilson’s approach of working out his material only during the rehearsal period is immediacy), and perhaps Mary Bell also. We cannot tell who is alive or dead, real or unreal, past, present or future. It might be intended to muse upon identity, guilt, complicity and such as well of course as our collective social hysteria about child abduction/abuse/murder, but I think its principal intended response is simply disquiet. It has been a while since Neilson has been this unpleasant, though I don’t say that as any kind of condemnation. This is a haunting piece, not in a delicate, ethereal sense but one that reconnects us with our primal fear of the dark. Even as I was leaving the theatre afterwards, I was further unsettled as a long-haired usher loomed out of the shadows, for all the world like the terrifying girl in Ringu.
Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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