A tale of people meeting the modern world with ghostly spirits providing the inspiration in an inventive new piece of theatre.
Electricity is something we used to take for granted; in this current climate it feels something of a precious commodity; even a luxury as economic realities bite into increasingly finite resources. But few would consider the origins of an effective power supply. ‘Ghosts on a Wire’ tells the story of the world’s largest coal powered electric plant at Bankside in Southwark. There could not be a more perfect venue than the Union Theatre, which is a stone’s throw away from the plant that now houses the Tate Modern Gallery. Called the Pioneer it powered homes north of the river but had a devastating effect on communities in South London.
It’s the early 1890s and the City of London Electric Lighting Company has been established. They aim to build a factory to supply electricity in London, especially north of the city where so much wealth and power resides. However, local residents are on the horns of a dilemma. The factory will be a rich source of employment, but will ultimately spell the destruction of local housing and traditional business.
Social reformer Octavia Hill (Gerri Farrell) is a vocal critic and maintains that clean air is vital for public health. Politician Lyon Playfair (Andrew Fettes) believes in progress and dismisses her concerns. Sarah Shelfer (Ali Kemp) is a pub landlady who fears for trade in the factory’s shadow. One of her customers Benny (Tom Neill) suspects his job as a lighterman may now be over.
As the debate rumbles on they are visited by ghostly spirits from the past. The poet William Blake (Timothy Harker) and writer Mary Shelley (Deborah Klayman) contemplate the future as the latter sees her vision of electricity realised. Legendary scientist Michael Faraday puts in an appearance as does 18th century diarist Hester Thrale. The scene is set as ambition clashes with humanity.
Writer and producer Linda Wilkinson presents an intriguing mix of ideas and perception that constantly challenges the audience. We have the inexorable rise of the industrial age set against historical figures that pre-date the Victorian era. The compact space of the Union Theatre provides a typically intimate setting. But the limited scale reduces the impact of some excellent visual projection designed by Martin Butterworth. It cries out for a much bigger setting where the visuals can fully complement the narrative. Even so, it remains an entertaining play that dares to be different for which it deserves much credit.
Writer/Producer: Linda Wilkinson
Director: PK Taylor
Sound Designer and Composer: Jack Baxter
Photographer and Graphic Design: Martin Butterworth
Review by: Brian Penn