You’ve got a poltergeist rattling around the flat. Who are you going to call? Danny Robins
Uncanny: I Know What I Saw
at the Oxford Playhouse
on Tuesday, November 14
Review by JON LEWIS
Your name is Matthew, and you suspect you’ve got a poltergeist rattling around the flat you share in Strood with your soon-to-be pregnant new girlfriend. Who are you going to call? Not Ghostbusters, but Danny Robins, host of the podcast and BBC television series Uncanny. It means making your story pubic and the narrative will be interrogated by two experts.
Kierán O’Keeffe, a psychologist, tends to look for explanations from the human world – maybe you were hallucinating, or sleep deprived, or having a nightmare - and a parapsychologist, Evelyn Hollow, whose kaleidoscopic knowledge of the paranormal enables her to code phenomena in easy to remember categories.
In the stage version of Uncanny, directed by Sam Hodges, Robins, writer of the West End hit 2.22: A Ghost Story, unleashes a performative reconstruction of Matthew’s experiences in the first half, while in the second he restages a haunting in Swansea related by a teacher, Del, remembering events when she was aged five in the 1970s.
Robins places objects in the set (designer, Zoe Hurwitz) recreated from the memories of his witnesses – a kettle that turns on when no one is in the room, a cradle that skids across the floor – accompanied by state-of-the-art filmed projections, powerfully of rainfall, created by Zakk Hein.
Alex Braithwaite’s excellent sound design is full of screeches to make the audience jump out of seats, and a pinpoint perfect lighting design from Jai Mojaria that seems to transport the experts magically onto the stage from the darkness.
Robins is an engaging presenter, radiating boyish enthusiasm. He asks the audience for ghost stories which are of limited interest. Maybe some nights there are humdingers. The audience and experts comment on observations that are drip-fed over the evening, but the limited information in the early scenes means there’s little insight.
Robins’ recreation of his own fearful visit to an Irish island feels like it belongs to a different play, however well it’s staged. There’s also surprisingly very little detail on the history of the first property in Strood and its previous owners.
Uncanny is an enjoyable performance of spectacle over substance.