Union Theatre, London – until 8th October 2022
Reviewed by Celia Armand Smith
Ghosts on a Wire is a new play by Linda Wilkinson and directed by PK Taylor. Based on the real events of the Pioneer Power Station, now the Tate Modern, Ghosts on a Wire takes you
from the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or Modern Prometheus in 1818, to the end of the 1800s where the real life costs of the new power station are becoming known.
Well researched, there is a lot of exposition that can make the story feel a bit more like a historical reenactment in a museum. It concerns the human, environmental, and societal cost of the power plant and energy itself. The rich are getting richer and the working classes are being pushed out with the implication that everyone will eventually benefit. The plot feels very topical if you dare read the news.
The play begins with Mary Shelley (Deborah Klayman), Michael Faraday (Tom Neill), Hester Thrale (Ali Kemp), and William Blake (Timothy Harker) chatting about Frankenstein and the advent of electricity in 1817. It then jumps forward in time, and suddenly we are in the 1880s on Bankside, where a new power station is being planned. There we meet industrialist and MP Lyon Playfair (Andrew Fettis) and Octavia Hill (Gerri Farrell), a social reformer and the founder of the National Trust, along with a publican and his wife, some local workers, a fortune teller, and a loved companion. It is at this point the ghosts of Shelley, Faraday, and Blake start to drift in and out of the plot, commenting on what has happened, and later providing some light relief at a seance.
The cast plays at least two characters each, cleverly swapping between them with the use of simple costume pieces and the occasional accent shift. The background projections helped place the action, and meant that the staging could remain simple and understated. The projections are best utilised when working alongside sound effects that signal when the ghosts are present and a change of scene.
Linda Wilkinson’s commentary on ruling classes placing industry and themselves above general humanity would not be out of place if it was set now. There is optimism and wisdom from William Blake and Octavia Hill, giving us hope for the future, however we know that history is destined to repeat itself.