To the Royal Court to see Joe Penhall's new play The Haunted Child which opens next week. It was great to see so many Drama St Mary's students there, having taken advantage of the Court's reduced student rates and the chance to grab a Saturday night preview.
The play itself was well worth the trouble. Young Thomas has his world torn apart when his absent father Douglas returns home to announce that he's abandoned his job as an engineer and has joined a religious cult whose main belief is the renunciation of worldly ties. Thomas' ever patient Mother, Julie, tries in a vain attempt to return to normality, to explain her partners increasingly erratic behaviour in terms that her son will understand, but the battlelines are drawn from the off and it's quickly apparent that Thomas is going to be asked to take a side.
There is a really Oedipal feel to the drama as Penhall explores the territory between idealism and responsibility. In one chilling moment Douglas, played brilliantly from calm to storm by Ben Daniels, tries to persuade Thomas that he is the reincarnation of his grandfather calling into question who, in the scene, is the child and who the man. It's a moment of sinister manipulation that subtly suggests that men struggle to make adequate room for the development of their offspring. In this respect the play is a study of masculinity in crisis.
Sophie Okenedo's Julie provides the ballast for the family and it's her desperate attempts to keep domestic stability in the face of a new order that wins the audiences hearts and minds. She is fairly flawless as the forgiving heroine of the piece that celebrates the security of structured normality.
Penhall's work is uneasy and tense, whilst asking serious questions about the nature of parenthood. It's made for a profound and thoughtful evening.