Brighton Fringe 2021
Created and produced by Simon Moorhead, Directed by J D Henshaw. Set design by Simon Moorhead, J D Henshaw and the Sweet Venues team. Till June 3rd .
‘TV paranormal shows are misleading at best, fake at worst.’ So how explore fissures between fact, factoid, and fake news from the other side? That’s assuming there is one. This isn’t a straight fictive recension of arguments. Some involved in There’s a Ghost in My House are presenting outtakes from real documentaries they made – from ITV and elsewhere. Yet the story woven round it may be happening right now.
We may know Simon Moorhead as multi-headed producer of The Other 1% having been a film and TV producer since the early 1980s. This is both his culminating contribution to the genre he pioneered on ITV – the world of the paranormal as documentary, not entertainment – and his debut as writer.
This is very much Moorhead’s experience both as producer of such shows as actually shown, and the film and TV world. It’s steeped in authenticity; vast monitors at ninety degrees to each other (the larger facing a distanced audience), actual footage, technical editing-suite displays and much else are stupefyingly accurate.
As well as Moorhead’s TBC Audio, co-producer Sweet Venues – its and the show’s director J D Henshaw – must be congratulated for mounting a show with as much technical address as this in an hour-long show. It’s the kind of professional attention given to full-length plays in larger theatres.
With contributions – one short section by Andy Matthews – and elements of dialogue by director Henshaw and solo actor Emily Carding, this is an extremely impressive, multi-platforming drama piece. Not quite docu-drama since the storyline’s new and fits into recent TV politics.
Carding’s Sam is alone in an editing suite and it’s getting late. In the middle of a desk, backed by a shelf of files, years of research teeter. The desk clutters with memories. Between the two Sam partly lives.
She fields conversations via phone, finds an incredibly irritating producer Claire Hayward has taken over one Lorraine’s position; Claire wants quantifiable outcomes, to close the show down for not managing to achieve what Sam points out to herself: ‘what scientists and philosophers since the world began haven’t managed to do’ and land a ghost for reality TV. Humour, exasperation, irritation and fury at Claire alternate with other feelings from a level that Claire’s admonitions give rise to. There’s crisis, a sense of a world either collapsing or in a banal sense, simply defunded and dismantled, undoing a devotion tantalisingly beyond the professional.
Ghosts are in the machine. Quite apart from a few unsettling stills, there’s edits of actual paranormal footage, commentary, archived interviews with real paranormal investigators, with Carding all the time stabbing away – dictating emails to Alexa and Syrie, in at first a tactful response to Claire, talking to her sympathetic line manager and not answering an irritating caller: ‘you can claim on your accident’ which eerily pops up every five minutes.
The monitors blaze archival footage, material genuinely unexplained including a seance at Charleston House. The editing process turns up other things. Carding, driven first to compromise in looking for sensation, then something deeper turns increasingly from the shock of what she tries to create – to the nothing that is not there, and the nothing that is.
Carding portrays a woman driven slowly to the JD swigged straight down as her carefully curated paranormal world itself begins to fray and fall apart. Carding’s arc of slow implosion isn’t brought about by anything obvious. Forget the kind of ghost haunting you’d expect: this goes far deeper. Carding, supreme in haunting herself through various incarnations of Shakespeare in her own Quintessence, an award-winner in 2019, here inhabits voicings not from some kitsch horror but revelations she might know and we naturally don’t. Carding’s explosions – her pent-up response to Claire and whatever does form a penumbra glowing round her, need resolving, not banishing.
The denouement will haunt. Carding’s outstanding for bringing a humanity and arc of humour, anger, irritation, wry bitterness, sheer despair, drunken ravings suddenly controlled and overwhelming feeling at the end. Nearly every calibration you might have seen in Quintessence is here too. This actor will always add more than a measure of distinction to any work she’s in. Her choice to work with this, and the team as well as the resulting production, speak to that quality. It’s unique, and in its way a testament. See it.