Review: Solo and slight

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The Independent Culture
THEATRE'S CURRENT economic climate guarantees the continuing propagation of one-person shows but all too often their creators underestimate the form's technical and dramatic challenges. Or, rather, the very stringency of these demands seems almost to be used as an excuse for not meeting them.

In this instance it's not even as if those involved can claim inexperience in their defence - this is the eighth joint project from writer Rona Munro and actor Fiona Knowles, whose MsFits company predates Munro's recent award-winning, Bafta-nominated success. She's on record as ranking their series of bittersweet, small-scale comedies among her best work, and some have indeed garnered their own share of critical and popular praise, but this tale of a middle-aged woman confronting the spectres of her past - hardly the most promising premise to start with, let's face it - is unlikely, on present showing, to join them.

Our protagonist, Kate, is inspecting the flat she sold 15 years ago, with a view to buying it again. Her reminiscences of the younger self who lived there, between the Sixties and the Eighties, focus primarily on her chalk'n'cheese relationship with Annie, an old school pal who moved in after Kate's feckless, wannabe-Bohemian husband moved out. Annie, however, also died in the flat, and her presence soon starts to seem more palpable than mere memory.

Munro attempts to answer the problem of generating sufficient dramatic fabric by having Knowles double as both women. Whether Annie's periodic appearances are your actual ghostly visitations, dramatic flashbacks, or a product of the gin and pills Kate keeps knocking back (she's been under a lot of stress) remains a moot point, but between them these explanations are supposed to cover the fact that Kate keeps talking to herself, or to her absent friend.

They don't, of course, in a narrative overburdened with rhetorical questions and digressions. Both characters are under-developed to the point that the larger theme - the changes and constants in women's lives over the past 30-odd years - barely takes shape. There's the odd glimpse of Munro's characteristically penetrating psychological or feminist insight, but Haunted's basic structural weakness far outweighs its scant compensations.

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