The Ghost Train
by Arnold Ridley, Directed by Gillie Richardson
6th – 8th April 2017
Review by Crysse Morrison
The only play with a fairground ride named after it, this comedy-thriller The Ghost Train also launched a dramatic genre: the group of stranded strangers in jeopardy. He’s better known now as dear old Private Godfrey in Dad’s Army (ironically, he did join the Home Guard during the war) but Arnold Ridley was previously a prolific playwright for forty years and this was one of his first plays, and his most successful. It’s a cleverly constructed drama – so cleverly in fact that it’s impossible to give any outline of the plot without spoilers, other than to say that tension builds at every turn for the six passengers who find themselves forced to spend the night in a dingy waiting-room apparently haunted by a deadly supernatural presence.
Philip de Glanville is splendidly convincing as the local stationmaster who reveals the awful legend before shockingly leaving the travellers alone… The passengers, of course, have little in common. There’s the newly-weds deep in love, well played by Django Lewis-Clark with Isabel Brewster, while the middle-aged couple are on the brink of separation. Neil Goodwin is particularly strong in the role of Mr Winthrop, with Annie Ward convincing as the wife who has had enough of her husband’s bad temper. Lesley Swinburn is marvellously irritated and irritating as Miss Bourne the elderly spinster who despite being teetotal manages to down an entire hip flask of brandy. The most annoying of all is Teddie Deakin who caused this crisis and simply giggles about it, a fatuous man who behaves as though he’s arrived direct from PG Wodehouse’s Drones club. David North stays superbly in character though every nuance of this demanding role.
And then there are the mysterious arrivals: wild-eyed Julia (Bethany Heath) apparently crazed by the ghastly tale of the ghost train, swiftly followed by two other strangers, David Gatliffe as her worried uncle Herbert and Richard Moore as her smooth-talking doctor. Crisis approaches and denouement unravels with a final-scene reveal as fine as any Agatha Christie. It’s a gripping story and highly entertaining, with both subtle humour and quite a few laugh out loud moments, mostly courtesy of Mr Winthrop and Miss Bourne. Director Gillie Richardson allowed interactions to speak for themselves without much body-language, in keeping with the writer’s request that the parts should be played straight and not as an overt comedy. But this is a thriller as well, and for that aspect huge credit goes to Philip de Glanville’s special effects with sound from Simon Bowman, and the superb set built by Bill Jacques, Jim Boyd and Frank Stephenson with dressing and props by Marcia Scott and lighting design by Matt Tipper. This behind-the-scenes team created a fantastically atmospheric experience that had the audience tingling and shivering with apprehension in between laughing. Costumes by Gillie Richardson and Isabel Brewster were excellent too, evoking 1920s era and suggesting personalities from the opening moments. A well-chosen piece for team production and a very enjoyable ensemble performance.