Deepika Arwind’s Phantasmagoria is certainly a play full of very prominent ideas, debates and arguments. The story revolves around Mehrosh, a very promising and bright student-activist who has been invited to take part to a debate with a powerful political leader. The debate is taking place in an estate in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by thick forest, which is what adds the more nightmarish element to the story.

Mehrosh, played beautifully by Hussina Raja, comes in constant conflict with Bina (played with great strength by Tanya Rodrigues) about the current political landscape and the policies of the ruling party. Even though the play does not specify if what we are seeing is in the here and now, there is a strong feeling of how current the debate between Mehrosh and Bina is.

Arwind’s writing is dense and rich in symbolism, without losing its directness. But the production feels like it has ‘promised’ something else than what it ends up doing. I wouldn’t describe Phantasmagoria as a “chilling psychological horror story” like the marketing copy does, as the ‘chilling horror’ element never really materialises. Despite the long periods of minimal lighting (with the use of phone torches ending up even being a bit distracting – for front row audiences at least) and the eerie soundscape,  is never fully transported to this nightmarish estate. There are moments of eeriness, which one wishes could last longer, but the screams of animals are not always effective to reflect the ghosts of the past.

Indeed, despite the strong cast, particularly the powerful conflict between the two main characters, and the very exciting – often comical – performance of Bina’s assistant (Ulrika Krishnamurti) the production never really takes off.

The play’s themes of divisive politics, political manipulation and of a corrupt status quo creating a vicious cycle which renders it unchangeable, are certainly chilling.