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The Ghost Theatre by Mat Osman

The Ghost Theatre by Mat Osman

Mat Osman is a man of many talents. He is possibly best known as the bassist in the British band Suede or may well be known as the brother of British TV presenter and author Richard Osman. But he is also a novelist and has followed up his more contemporary debut The Ruins with a grimy, anarchic and fantastical rendering of Elizabethan England in The Ghost Theatre.

The Ghost Theatre opens on the rooftops of London in 1601. Shay, a messenger, is using them to escape pursuit and in doing so meets a young man who calls himself Nonesuch. Nonesuch is a performer, the lead actor of a group of lost boys who work in a London theatre. Shay comes from a community across the river that worships and works with birds and her mother was able to divine the future through the flights of starlings (the “murmuration”). Shay leaves her community when Nonesuch gets her a position at the theatre but when Shay too starts to perform in their alternative, anarchic ghost theatre, she finds powers of her own and draws the attention of the powerful to her.

Osman himself has described The Ghost Theatre as Elizabethan London with a hint of punk sensibility and it works. The Ghost Theatre is a fabulous reimagining of Elizabethan London. Crowded and grimy with everyone striving to be wealthy or favoured or famous. The idea of the ghost theatre itself, a street based performance based more on things that its audience actually experience, becomes a precursor to the anti-establishment anarchy that explodes out of the narrative. And Shay, who is both naïve and worldly at the same time, is a great character to explore this milieu.

Underpinning all of this the understanding and effective use of the drivers of the tragedian tradition – the exploitation of the weak, doomed romance, prophesies and fate and sacrifice. And Osman’s characters, being in the theatre themselves, are aware of these tropes. Even so, they cannot help either using them, falling back on them or being caught up in them. But also sometimes realise how they can use this understanding to turn the tables. Osman deploys some of these motifs devastatingly into the plot but cannot help but thread in some joy and optimism to lighten what is otherwise often a dark and cautionary tale.

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The Ghost Theatre by Mat Osman

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The Ghost Theatre by Mat Osman



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