REVIEWS & PRESS

THE EVACUEE by Ian Breeds

at the Chelsea Theatre 29th October until 17th November 2013 

Starring Maria Victoria Eugenio, Mike Evans & Sarah Tyler Shaw

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TIMEOUT ★★★   reviewed on 31ST October 2013

‘Poltergeist’ meets ‘Goodnight Mister Tom’ in Ian Breeds’s genuinely frightening wartime ghost story. When a young evacuee is moved into the house of cantankerous widower George, things that go bump in the night are soon to follow and his house becomes a nightmare of strange noises, slamming doors and supernatural possession.

At a lean hour long it’s a mercilessly efficient house of horrors, with the hell of war and a burgeoning relationship between George and his childhood friend Brenda a convincing backdrop for the scares. Unlike the majority of stage horror, however, the creepy illusions and sudden shocks here really do pack a punch. Set design is credited to the whole team, and it’s a stunning achievement - gorgeously detailed and ingeniously tricked out with effects and surprises.

The show is made all the more unsettling by an assured performance from the brilliant Maria Eugenio as a schoolgirl pursued by malevolent forces. The story may be a familiar one, but this is haunted house theatre at its spine-chilling best.

By Stewart Pringle


 

EVERYTHING THEATRE ★★★★ reviewed on 31st October 2013

Pros: Very exciting play that made a nice change from traditional drama and had me jumping out of my seat. The short-n-sweet length was also refreshing. 
 
Cons: The audience’s entrance to the space fed directly onto the left hand side of the stage, and a few latecomers disrupted the mood. Maybe the set needed a barrier of sorts to allow for those spectators without watches or any sense of decorum. 
 
Our Verdict: Good old fashioned scary fun (minus any gore if you’re worried), and an innovative set design, makes this play a must-see for dark wintery nights in the Capital. 
 
A pitch black room; the chilling melody of a minor chord on repeat boomed into the atmosphere, filling it with foreboding. Once the smoke had cleared and the noise had died, lights came up on the scene: before me, the inside of a small cottage. The furniture, props, and dress of the characters all spoke well to the period of the piece, which was set in an English village during World War II. The audience could see two rooms of the house: the living/dining room, and the small bedroom upstairs, which would eventually house the eponymous ‘Evacuee’. The cottage felt typically old fashioned (it should do in 2013), and there were no anachronisms. It was simply but effectively done. The set design (Viktor Palfi) was especially smart because it lent itself well to all the frightening moments of the play, which came out of the space and build more so than the dialogue. 
 
The resident of the cottage, George (Mike Evans), like many people living outside of the big cities in the 1940s, is required to take in an Evacuee. It’s not a desirable situation, but as the playwright demonstrates it was a time when everyone in Britain was “doing their bit” to support the war effort – selflessness and sacrifice were mandatory. 
 
George’s Evacuee – Janet – speaks not one word throughout the play; she has been muted by the death of her younger brother in London during a bombing. The child’s silence is dramatically effective; as the witness for most of the eerie and scary happenings within the cottage, Janet’s terror is amplified by her voiceless responses. We cannot know how she feels but we can certainly read fear in her eyes – and without words this fear engulfs her entirely. The lack of speech makes her hard to characterise, but I did feel pity for the girl, and she really drove the play’s sinister momentum. Wherever she went, the unnatural and unnameable would follow… it was certainly spooky!
 
This is one of the few ghost stories I’ve seen played out on stage, and I found it great fun. The director made really clever use of classic horror techniques – doors moving of their own accord, music boxes coming to life, and pictures falling off the wall. It was – like the set design – simple but ingenious. The paranormal occurrences dotted throughout the play created a pretty effective build of tension, so much so that when the penultimate moment of action came I was clutching my friend’s arm and grimacing. What would happen?! Suffice to say it was unexpected!
 
Watching this play on Halloween night made a nice change from smelly house parties and DVD marathons of theFinal Destination films. Nevertheless, I would recommend this play to anyone who fancies a fright, whatever the season. Not only does this play use subtle devices to scare the wits out of its audience members, but it also has an interesting narrative, incorporating characters with tough lives and seductive histories. Watching the relationship grow between George (the grumpy, bookish host-parent) and billeting officer Brenda was very engaging. Evacuee Janet held the fear of the play, but Brenda and George held the humanity. I think this contrast is essential to any production that calls itself horror (without the contrast it wouldn’t be horrific), and it’s also the reason this particular production is a great success.
 
Disclaimer: My friend Jo is a scaredy cat and she just about managed The Evacuee with some mild screaming. I was just pleased she didn’t deliver on the promised dribbling of bodily fluids.
WHAT'S PEEN SEEN ★★★★ reviewed on 31st October 2013

Set in WWII, The Evacuee tells the chilling tale of young Londoner, Janet, who finds herself in a less than ordinary foster home. The play opens as sweet local woman, Brenda, persuades the grumpy George Wilson to take Janet in. Recently traumatised by the death of her younger brother in the London bombings, Janet does not speak. After settling in for the night, strange things start to happen – spooky things!

This is a slick, well-paced production with jumps in all the right places. Mike Evans is a perfectly pitched, damaged literary recluse, and Maria Victoria Eugenio really carries the show with an impressive range of emotion and physicality – succeeding where so many have failed, to play the role of a child (as an adult), and a mute, in such a convincing way. Sarah Tyler Shaw does well as Brenda, which felt to be the least developed character.

The set really flexes an impressive set of muscles; doors opening unaided, music boxes playing of their own accord, and even (nod to Woman in Black) a rocking chair with a mind of its own. The design is attributed to several company members, perhaps most notably, light/sound designer Viktor Palfi, who really deserves recognition for the overall effect and stunning level of detail. Every element of the set is carefully thought out, faithful (to this untrained eye) to the period, and the dark wood, brown paint, dreary paintings, and tired armchairs successfully create a gloomy, tense atmosphere.

As the story unfolds (holding back on spoilers…) the ‘happenings’ increase in strength and number. Thanks to the clever use of sound and light (whispering that moves around the room, prolonged periods of total darkness), there are some genuinely scary moments. These are let down though, by a few choices which jarred with the subtle and sustained fear factor – the appearance of the ghoul, in the ‘flesh’ on stage at the end of the play is unnecessary and in some way cheapens the previous building action. The other surprise appearances of the ghostly face were brashly lit in red and appeared cartoon-esque, which broke the mood. Pale light and more haunting makeup would have helped this effect on its way to achieving full nightmare-inducing potential.

Bearing in mind that this script started life as a short play (part of a collection known as Dark Tales), this first outing as a full length piece is to be commended; the storyline is strong and the characters are on their way to being fully formed. There are a few exceptions however; at times the dialogue between Brenda and George feels stilted – the subject matter is often very emotional, which jars with the formal 1940′s voice. A decision needs to be made between being true to the period, and ‘modernising’ dialogue for a modern audience, and emotional subject matter. A few loose ends of plot also stick in the mind – why does George’s mother who is ‘away for a few days’ get mentioned so frequently with no resolution? Why does the ghost talk of a perfect day on the lake (leading us to believe the lake is the site of her suicide), only to hear later in the play that she died at home? A drowned ghost would be way more scary, just sayin’.

In all, this was an excellent way to spend All Hallows’ Eve. Riled though I was by bad audience behaviour (talking throughout and giggling is not acceptable in a theatre, chaps – see my blog on this), I thoroughly enjoyed the show, and hope to see further development of the script from the very promising writer (and director), Ian Breeds.

by Ellie Pitkin


 

REMOTEGOAT ★★★ reviewed on 29th October 2013

Evacuee at the Chelsea Theatre is a creepy Second World War story that plays out to a sharp conclusion. The audience are quickly introduced to the three characters of the wartime drama, placed in an effective set.


The story develops as the young evacuee Janet, (played perfectly by Maria Victoria Eugenio) is billeted with George (excellently delivered by Mike Evans) a somewhat grumpy, afflicted writer. The cast is completed by the affable Brenda, played well by Sarah Tyler Shaw.

The sterile and fearful atmosphere of wartime and the evacuee's experience is well created, both by the sparse period decor of the house and the sometimes staccato nature of the text. I had reminiscences of the nights I spent in my grandmother's house wondering what was creaking on the floor boards of the landing and only the smell of mothball's was missing!

I found the play a bit sticky in places though, with a few pacing issues that could perhaps have been cleaned up, but the character portrayal, particularly Mike Evans as George, was great to watch. His layered display showed a well thought out projection of a hardened man, desperate to leave his ghosts behind and reach out, but not quite ever letting himself move on from his past.

Without giving too much away, be prepared for some genuinely chilling moments, if a little cliché, and a conclusion that sneaks up on you very quickly! On the whole the production displayed moments of heartfelt sorrow and real horror. Perhaps a few touches needed here and there, but worth seeing.

by Colin Hake

THE GUIDE TO KENSIGNTON & CHELSEA reviewed on 31st October 2013

Right on Halloween, I had the pleasure – or fright? – of watching the World War II ghost story The Evacuee at Chelsea Theatre. And what a spooky little play this is!

As we mentioned in our preview (The Evacuee at The Chelsea Theatre this autumn), the plot revolves around Janet, a young girl that’s been evacuated from London to the countryside who finds herself placed in the house of widower George Wilson; she’s mute since witnessing the death of of her brother in The Blitz. From her first night in her new house, unusual events start occurring, frightening her into waking from her sleep. On the subsequent days, we learn more about George’s past and the circumstances surrounding his wife’s death – at the same time, the creepy occurrences start increasing in number. Billeting officer Brenda is the third character, bringing Janet to George’s home; it transpires that George and Janet are childhood friends, and she herself is suffering from the strains of war with her husband’s sudden departure to fight in France. She acts as a go-between for Janet and George when the latter starts blaming the former for some of the unusual events – disturbed bedrooms, stolen letters – although is Janet really blameless?

I’ve never been to a horror play before, or indeed any play where I was warned about the loud noises and sudden movements at the box office! Indeed, I’m not really one for any kind of horror entertainment…but that’s not to say that I’m terrified of it. Far from it – bring it on, I say! So from the opening – where the audience was sat in the pitch dark, with an audio of World War II bombs falling being played – I tried to imagine what kind of spooky goings could take place. This was a small set – what sort of magic could they perform? But magic they did indeed perform – from pictures that fell off walls, to cupboard doors and drawers that opened randomly, to a music box that popped up and starting playing its tune. Even a chair – right at the front of the stage – moved by itself. I’d hazard a guess that some of the more eagle-eyed audience members might have seen how all this happened, but I’m happy to put it down to theatrical magic. But all of what I described so far falls into the “ooh, that’s creepy” category – there’s far more frightening things that occur which I won’t reveal here so I don’t spoil the surprise.

The Evacuee really builds in anticipation as the play develops – at the beginning, it’s hard to see where the horror-like goings on might occur. But build it does, rapidly so, until the grand finale of the piece. The three actors all do very well with their performances, with Maria Victoria Eugenio an excellent, silent and petrified Janet; Sarah Tyler Shaw (Brenda) a well-played sympathetic friend to George and a motherly figure to Janet; and Mike Evans as George, the angry, withdrawn widower who initially refuses to have anything to do with an evacuee.

It’s definitely well worth a visit for a bit of theatrical terror this autumn right on our doorstep – I’d highly recommend it!

by Anna Zgorolec


 

HORROR TALK ★★★★ 

Written and directed by Ian Breeds as the last in a trio of horror plays entitled Dark Tales, The Evacuee is set during WW2 and tells the story of Janet (Maria Victoria Euegenio), a young girl evacuated out of London and placed at the home of disobliging widower George (Mike Evans). Despite regular visits from the town's billeting officer Brenda (Sarah Tyler Shaw), Janet struggles to fit in, and bumps in the night lead her to the discovery of a dark past that still lingers in the house.

An hour long and with a cast of only three, Breeds' WW2 ghost tale is an intimate production which spooks and chills from the very entrance into Chelsea Theatre's auditorium. Battling a hazy smoke and the sound of explosive bombs to find your seat, the immersive environment couldn't be more effective in making you a vulnerable subject to Breeds' scares - especially when you nervously take up a front row seat.

The Evacuee has come a long way since its birth as a short play, which Breeds says was aimed to scare the audience and make them feel compassion for Janet. As a full length production, it certainly excels in both communications. Lights flicker, radios turn on, and drawers and chairs move by their own accord - not to mention the scenes of human possession and one of the most truly frightening moments in theatre I have ever witnessed. All of the classic contraptions of haunted house stories are present. The lighting is superb at highlighting movement between different rooms in the static stage of the house, and transitioning moments of total darkness keep you squinting in terror and anticipation.

Janet, an innocent and scared child whose traumatic war experiences and losses have found her literally lost for words, is enough to draw pity from anyone, and Eugenio does wonders to confirm the heartbreak. But what justifies Breeds decision to extend his play is the intermittent gradual building of George and Brenda's intriguing history and rekindling relationship. Context and backstory instil tension and guesswork, while giving the audience a breather from jump scares.

The character of George, a broken man riddled with anger and self-pity after the unfortunate death of his wife and daughter, is played by Evans with a powerful exuberance throughout. Provoking both commiseration and terror, Evans walks a fine line between the two from the opening act, as George struggles to emotionally engage with Brenda and Janet. Tyler Shaw's intense passion and her ability to communicate a spectrum of emotion (as Brenda) completes an all-round trio of absorbing performances.

A chilling, memorable climax denotes the wrap-up and provides one final gasp, securing a thoroughly enjoyable evening that exemplifies raw theatre at its finest. If you have a free night this weekend (it closes Sunday 17th), The Evacuee at The Chelsea Theatre should not be missed.

by Becky Roberts


 

LONDON THEATRE 1

The Chelsea Theatre plays host to Ian Breeds’ hour-long play, The Evacuee, which is delightfully spooky, intimate and engaging throughout.

Janet, an innocent and troubled evacuee is shipped over to be taken care of by George Wilson, a lonely widower and War enthusiast. The two were bought together through Brenda, who is an old friend of George’s and the local billeting officer. Strange things happen in the house after the introduction of Janet and we dive deeper into the history of George and Brenda through this young, innocent evacuee

Walking into the auditorium was a terrifying experience itself. Smoky haze, gunshots and bomb sounds do not make for a pleasant entry. The show took its time providing some context and very gradually became spookier and scarier. The paranormal occurrences were old fashioned but bloody exciting; the radio turning itself on, the chairs moving around “invisibly”, the cupboards and draws opening. All were situated excellently and you could never predict what was going to happen next. The gradual nature meant that along with Janet, the audience became more and more anxious as the play went on. Without a doubt the stand-out moment was the mirror scene.

George and Brenda’s relationship was portrayed well and as melodramatic as some of their moments were, you could feel a real tension between them both, based on their dark past. I felt that there could have been more done with Janet and her story; the voiceover letter from her Mother was a little awkward and hard to empathize with. That being said, Maria Eugenio did very well with her expression and body language. Her performance was silent yet deadly and her humming will long remain in my ears. Both Mike Evans and Sarah Shaw do a good job as George and Brenda and the chemistry between the two was steadfast.

I wish I could post a picture of the set on here, because it was [simply] genius. The beautiful decoration of George’s house was realistic, humble and aesthetically pleasing and gave a great insight into how homes were designed in the World War II era. You are warned before-hand that there will be loud noises and moments of pitch-black darkness, so make sure you’re prepared for both.

The Evacuee was one of the most enjoyable nights I’ve had in the city for a while. It’s on at the cool and trendy Chelsea Theatre. The closest stations are Sloane Square and Earls Court and from there it’s a very simple 10-minute bus journey. I guarantee that just like me, you’ll end up having a great time and will be in for a genuinely scary theatrical experience. I’m sleeping with my door wide open tonight…

by Sahil Jon


 

DARK TALES- (The Extended Week) by Ian Breeds

October 2011 at The Lion & Unicorn, Kentish Town, London

Starring Rochelle Parry, Ian Breeds, Sarah Tyler Shaw & Maria Victoria Eugenio

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Read the full 5 STAR Remote Goat Review here


 

DARK TALES- The London Tour

August-September 2011 

THE ROSEMARY BRANCH, Islington N1 3DT

UPSTAIRS AT THE GATEHOUSE, Highgate Village N6 4BD

THE LION & UNICORN, Kentish Town NW5 2ED

Starring Monique Cunningham, Jasraj Sahota, Sarah Tyler Shaw & Andy Gibbins

Monique CunninghamJasraj Sahotanew 2Andy Gibbins- Headshot

The British Theatre Guide Review

EXTRA EXTRA Review

Tottenham & Woodgreen Journal Review