Hannah and her husband Archie live in a house of secrets and lies. To make matters worse they are sharing it with a ghost. Using the Ghostbuster app student doctor Archie hires Annie, a spiritual medium who specialises in Chinese poltergeists. And that is when his troubles really begin.
What a surprising and satisfying piece of theatre this is. It is funny in dark, often cringe-inducing ways. It has plenty to say about how men continue to fail women and the many foolish assumptions people make based on race. It contains more genuine shocks and frights than many other ghost stories. And it brings to a pub theatre in Clapham elements of traditional Chinese opera and dance that are frankly beautiful.
If all of that sounds like an awkward mixture then do not worry. These disparate elements are fused with great skill by the director and writers. The difficult part of reviewing it is how to say anything about the story without spoiling the twists and shocks that make watching it so enjoyable. It is based on a traditional Chinese story (check the tags on this review if you insist on knowing which one!) and I could not help wondering whether another famous play also took inspiration from that story.
Imagine Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit with the white supremacy and most of the class twittery taken out of it. Add gorgeous singing and choreography. There are definite parallels. Annie is like an on fleek Madame Arcati, with talented RHYANNA ALEXANDER-DAVIS cranking up the humour and the horror. Initially she comes across as a money-grubbing charlatan but nobody in this play is at all what they seem to be. SEISHA BUTLER’s Hannah (actor and capitalist) goes through many changes of emphasis, all of them deftly handled. Alexander-Davis and Butler’s physical comedy with a gas mask is a highlight. Playing Archie, SAM GOH gives an amusing and appealing performance until… Oh I really must not say.
As for NING LU, I dare not even reveal who she is playing. Sitting down to tea and planning possible futures she gives a lovely performance but where she really shines is in those sequences of traditional song and movement. What begins as a discrete sequence of beautiful pathos soon bleeds into the domestic setting of the rest of the play. The revelations come thick and fast and the horror escalates. One final twist is deeply shocking and so impressively staged.
It is safe to say that Trial of Love finishes a long way, emotionally and thematically, from where it began. The cast members shine at every turn. Special mention must go to director SALLY JIAYUN XU’s sound work. From sinister woody percussion to a full-on orchestra of otherworldly mosquitoes during that devastating final scene, the sound brings extraordinary atmosphere to an outstanding show by Hidden Viewz Productions. It is only on at Bread & Roses until 14th September. I would love to see it go on to somewhere with slightly more room for it to breathe.
Written by: Dwain Brown & Sally Jiayun XU
Directed by: Sally Jiayun XU
Rhyanna Alexander-Davis (Annie)
Seisha Butler (Hannah)
Sam Goh (Archie)
Ning Lu (An)