Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

veronica head

Veronica’s Room

Highbury Theatre Centre


ANYONE who has watched Criminal Minds on TV, or indeed many other of the US crime dramas, will know that America has pretty well cornered the market on your friendly, neighbourhood, psychopathic nutter.

So when an ancient couple with dodgy Irish accents meet Susan and Larry in a restaurant, Larry being a boy she only met a few days ago, and, making a strange request, invite them back to the home where they are the caretakers, suspicions should be at least twitching into life.

The scene is supposedly Boston in 1973 and Susan, or so she is told by the decrepit couple, is a dead ringer for Veronica, a girl who used to live in the house until she died of TB, while her loony sister Cissy, who still thinks her sister is alive, is dying of cancer wracked with guilt that Veronica is angry with her for some unexplained incident years age.

Veronica’s room, furniture covered in dustsheets on a nice set from Malcolm Robertshaw, has been left just as it was when she died . . .  so, if only Susan would dress up as Veronica and pretend to be her, and then tell Cissy she wasn’t angry at all, and had missed her so much . . . then all would be well with the world and Cissy would be able to die happy, or as happy as you can be in shuffling off the mortal coil.

At this point the alarm bells should be deafening but despite obvious reservations by lawyer Larry, saintly Susan decides to go along with the plan to allow Cissy’s troubled soul to meet its maker free from guilt and off she vanishes into the en suite toute suite to change into Veronica's clothes . . . and into her life.

Advertised as a chilling thriller we should know within a few minutes that all is not as it seems, things are ringing a little bit too true to be actually true in Ira Levin’s spine-chiller, if you see what I mean.

Levin’s most famous work is probably Rosemary’s Baby and, like in that gothic horror novel, you know from early on that something is amiss, that things are just not stacking up, but there is nothing to put your finger on. You just know something isn’t right.

After the interval sanity retreats evenSusan further as we find ourselves questioning what we had really seen in Act I as the sand shifts with a rapidly changing tide. Just once Susan gives us a beacon of reality to cling on to but that is quickly extinguished.

Like Rosemary’s Baby there is growing unease from the opening scene but it is not until the very end that we discover the full horror of what we have seen developing before us.

Emma Woodcock as Susan who finds the road to hell is paved with good intentions

Dee White and Robert Hicks play the older couple showing commendable distinction between their performance in the two acts in what are not the easiest of roles while Emma Woodcock is a sweet, innocent Susan becoming more and more frantic as reality dawns on her.

Josh Higgins, meanwhile, looking a little like an unwanted extra in a 118-118 ad – don’t you just miss the 70s with its perms and Zapata moustaches – is a laid back, cool, 70’s dude, new boyfriend Larry and the only one who seems to want to question or suspect anything wrong with what is being suggested. Could he be the only sane one we ask?

Directed by Laura McLaurie and Richard Tye, the cast of four build the tension slowly with the opening act setting a scene that becomes unrecognised by act II. There are no clues, this is no whodunit, but the tension is there and is unleashed after the interval growing to a terrible climax. I have always maintained imagination is better than any special effects and the full realisation of the truth within the walls of Veronica’s room are testament to that. To say much more would be to give away the gripping plot.

It is beautifully paced building relentlessly to its terrible conclusion and with first night gone the production can settle down now into its own natural rhythm. The plot is clever, the twist unexpected and the tension rising with every minute that passes. Horror at its disturbing best. To 31-10-15

Roger Clarke



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