The Haunting of Susan A

King's Head Theatre


Playwright and co-artistic director of this legendary fringe theatre, Mark Ravenhill, stars in his two hander - a kind of valediction for a pub that has apparently occupied this site for more than 400 years.

Sadly, the onward march of gentrification and corporatisation of Upper Street means that, according to Ravenhill, this lovely timeworn space will be a restaurant within two years after the theatre moves into purpose-built premises nearby.

The Camden-based writer starts by asking us to turn off our phones - he is about to tell us tales of the old place: its 50 years as a quirky, run-down theatre, then further back when it was used for bare-knuckle fights and even a possible Shakespeare connection.

In mid flow he is interrupted by an 'audience member' (Suzanne Ahmet) who “must speak” and goes on to promise “I’ll tell the truth. I don’t want another cisgendered white man standing on the –, claiming the –, controlling the narrative."

She tells her story and, for the bulk of this shocking, spooky tale, the narrative is littered with theatrical references; ostentatious requests to the sound and lighting desk to turn up or lower the lights, references to the "full circle of concentration" and a drama school directory of stage-craft terms.

Sadly, this metatheatrical twist get in the way of the story of poverty, abuse and tragedy that befell Susan A in the Islington of the 1830s. It's well researched and wonderfully paced, but the self consciously cliched amplified crashes and flickering lights aren't just a distraction but an artistic cop out.

Happily, for Ahmet, these diversions wither in the final third of the work and she uses a technique as old at the King’s Head itself to evoke audience response - excellent acting. With a light prune, less theatrics and more actual theatre, this could be a corker.

The Haunting of Susan A runs until June 26.