Review: The Haunting of Susan A, at King’s Head Theatre

Thursday, 9th June — By Lucy Popescu

Suzanne Ahmet The Haunting of Susan A Rah Petherbridge

Suzanne Ahmet in The Haunting of Susan A. Photo: Rah Petherbridge

THE King’s Head theatre (the pub’s back room) opened in 1970 and has been in existence ever since. As it plans to move to its new, purpose-built premises in Islington Square, it is fitting that co-artistic director Mark Ravenhill should write a play about the site’s past.

Ravenhill is an affable narrator. Was the King’s Head a tavern that Shakespeare once frequented? he wonders.

Did local playwright Joe Orton ever slip in here for a pint?

In a previous incarnation, he tells us, the room was an informal and illegal boxing space – “a place of men and smoke”. He’s convinced there must still be an echo of “all that fear and adrenaline and anger”.

Ravenhill’s presentation is interrupted by Susan (Suzanne Ahmet) who professes to know the truth about the theatre and wants to tell the story of its haunting by a young woman.

She reveals how, 20 years before, an actress was haunted by a ghost while rehearsing in the theatre. It traumatised her so much she overdosed on pills.

Susan took on her part and, as she rehearsed, she too felt the ghost at her back. But she refused to turn around to confront the spectre and instead set out to discover the identity of the woman who haunts the space.

It’s a clever idea, beautiful in its simplicity, to end the theatre’s tenure at the pub with an hour’s storytelling.

While the ghost tale is compelling, the scenes between Ravenhill and Ahmet arguing over who controls the narrative feel contrived and serve only to break the spell.

The play’s most chilling moments come courtesy of the sudden blackouts and unexpected sound effects.

Like the theatre, it’s rough round the edges but The Haunting of Susan A proves a fond farewell to a seminal space.

Until June 26

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