From Mark Ravenhill, the Kings Head Theatre’s newly appointed Artistic Director comes his newest play – The Haunting of Susan A. A site-specific metatheatrical piece all about London’s Oldest Pub Theatre.

Credit: Rah Petherbridge

Ravenhill’s last show was in 2019 (the before times!!). The Boy in the Dress, a musical, premiered at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon.

The play begins with Ravenhill providing the audience with some history of the pub in which we are sat. He explains that there used to be an illegal fight club take place in the very room we are in. Although Ravenhill has a way with words, and the history was interesting I did at first wonder if this is what the entire hour would be made up of.

Thankfully Suzanne Ahmet soon stands up and asks to share her story, she insists it is a real one which happened to her in this building. Ahmet’s character is a lesbian engineer, that fell into acting after falling in love with an acting coach.

Ahmet explains that 20 years ago an actress was rehearsing for a show at the Kings Head. During this she was haunted by a ghost and subsequently took her own life.

Credit: Rah Petherbridge

Ahmet proves a dab hand at storytelling – yes the story is good, but the way she spins the words makes it feel as though this is her own personal story. Which is pure magic. I found myself hanging on to her every word, and could have listened to her speak for much longer than the 60 minute run time.

In the interactions between Ahmet and Ravenhill, it is evident that Ravenhill himself is not an actor. This was highlighted significantly by the talent displayed by Ahmet. Although his play writing and storytelling abilities are obvious, the play falters during these shared moments, due to the uneven split in abilities between the two of them.

The theatre itself was incredibly effective in setting the atmosphere for this play. To be seated in a dark and dingy back room, with a bucket upon the stage collecting rain from a hole within the roof helped to set the scene. And allowed the audience to feel immersed within the production.

Credit: Rah Petherbridge

Throughout there were a couple of very good jump scares. These are in part due to Ahmet’s spine-tingling storytelling abilities, and also down to the lighting design by Jo Underwood and sound design by Roly Botha. Both the lighting and sound played an incredibly important role in the tense atmosphere created and the jumps the audience experienced.

The fourth wall is broken repeatedly by Ravenhill and Ahmet – with Ahmet even asking an audience member to read lines with her and zip up her dress. In this respect the play feels as though they really are telling you about their experiences. It feels more like a talk and less like a play at times.

The Haunting of Susan A is unique and incredibly effective at rousing tension within the audience members. However, it’s in need of some fine-tuning. Whilst the story is great, it also comes to an incredibly abrupt ending. So abrupt in fact that Underwood on the lighting panel had to begin the applause, as the audience (myself included) were unaware the play had ended.

Ahmet proves an incredible storyteller. The theatre itself is the third cast member in this piece, helping to set the scene. The lighting and sound is very well placed to invoke the full effect which the show is seeking to provide. I feel this play won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, and there’s definitely aspects that require improvement. However it’s a good way to spend an hour and it’s always good to contribute to smaller venues such as this one.

The Kings Head will soon be getting a new venue just around the corner, and this dark and leaky room will be transformed into a restaurant. But hopefully no one ever forgets the rich history of London’s Oldest Pub Theatre.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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