Pleasance Theatre, London – 1 February.
Kevin arrives at his last call-out for the day, a dilapidated house in the middle of a forest near where he grew up. Li Na presents him with a washing machine that no longer spins, but as Kevin attempts to repair it, there are obvious hints that the machine isn’t the only thing that’s broken. Intertwining mythical and personal histories, Julie Tsang’s horror story is a compelling blend of the supernatural and the real.
Almost immediately, Li Na’s behaviour and the things she says raise some red flags. There are some horror and thriller tropes that establish the tone of the story and that things aren’t going to end well for Kevin, but they are generally effective signposts for what’s coming.
However, Tsang knows how to surprise her audience. Li Na inhabits a realm that isn’t entirely of this world and shares some of her favourite creation stories with Kevin as he works. She speaks of dragons, serpents and magical trees in times long ago and more recent. These are engagingly told, and often unsettling. The very end takes a sharp and unexpected turn, though is not altogether clear. It’s also desperately needs clear trigger warnings. The 90 minutes could also be trimmed down a bit in order to keep the pace consistent; there are some moments that lag and the plot threatens to stall.
Tina Chiang initially depicts Li Na as elderly and frail, but she gradually transforms into someone – or something – much stronger and more powerful. Mikey Anthony-Howe begins as a confident lad who just wants to do his job and go home, but the things he experiences in the house entirely change him. Both actors use nuanced performances to negotiate subtle, incremental transitions that shift the power balance and reveal the truths of their characters. Director Jen Tan no doubt also deserves credit for this, as well as creating fear and tension in a space only marginally bigger than a shipping container and with audience surrounding the playing space.
Despite the issues, the script’s range of influences and forms, combined with great performances, result in a generally strong production. Whilst the script could do with further development, there are some genuinely disturbing moments.