Host (Living Record Festival, online)

The Living Record Festival presents new digital work in its new run, which is on until mid-February. You can read my reviews of previous productions here.

Host is a half-hour dramatic play presented by Danse Macabre, directed by Lisa Millar and written by Sam Essame.

In a pre-recorded Zoom story we follow English teacher Fay (Annemarie Anang) who has turned to online tuition after tragedy has caused her to leave her school.

Her new pupil is Julia (Gracie Peters), fifteen, and although at first the girl seems a slightly sulky teenager it becomes clear more sinister forces are at work.

As the lessons progress Fay, and we the audience, begin to feel unsettled and disturbed, but it is far from clear who is manipulating who, whatever we initially assume.

Screencap from Host

Something is clearly wrong, and the appearance of Julia’s parents (Daniel Robinson and Rebecca MacKinnis) does little to inspire confidence or remove the sense of unease.

This play has something of the supernatural about it, a sense of magic realism and horror, and a slow storyline which builds from the mundane of Zoom freezes and glitches.

A tight four hander helped along by shadows (puppetry by Alice Sillett) and sound effects, Host is atmospheric but has something of an unsatisfactory ending.

I enjoyed all four performances but felt that Essame’s script initially pulled back from dealing with a common theme of lockdown (abuse of children forced to school at home).

I was unclear when or where Host was set, and felt slightly shortchanged by the false trails which may or may not have been placed to trick the minds of the characters, and us.

I did come to a conclusion about Julia’s story, but there were too many questions left hanging for this to be an unqualified success. An interesting viewing experience, though.

Host can be viewed on-demand at the Living Record Festival: purchase your ticket here.