THE GHOST TRAIN – Manor Pavilion Theatre, Sidmouth


5 September 2022

4****

Next year, Arnold Ridley’s play ‘THE GHOST TRAIN’ will reach it’s centenary; there is no argument, it can rightfully be regarded as a classic of the British Theatre. There is no other play I can think of which so brilliantly combines a whole raft of theatrical genres; romance, mystery, thriller, drama, horror, supernatural, comedy….. no wonder it is hugely popular.

As the mist rolls in through the doors of the remote station waiting room, a flickering gas mantle sheds light on the shabby walls; a map of Cornwall peeling above the fireplace. A splendidly atmospheric opening and scene-setter for what follows. Ridley conjours up a wonderful story of isolation and stories of hauntings, the walking dead and various nefarious goings-on. It is a many-layered plot, beautifully constructed and wonderfully told.

Plays of this vintage can often be seen as being dated with dialogue which is tricksy to bring off in this day and age, but the secret is to perform the characters with conviction, without looking for laughs unless they are meant by the writer. Director, David Janson, patently understands this and his cast throw themselves into the production with verve and play their roles absolutely straight. It just works like a dream.

Two couples are the first to arrive at the station having been stranded as the result of the irresponsible actions of a fellow passenger. These really could be two-dimensional characters, but thanks to the writing and the performances, they are fleshed out and believable, each following an arc through the action of the story. Owen Landon is excellent as the arrogant and domineering Richard Winthrop who softens as the tale develops and Rosie Edwards is equally convincing as his strong-minded wife – their marriage on the rocks. The very talented young actor Charlie Bryant is totally believable as the newlywed Charles Murdock as is Holly Ashman as his timid wife Peggy; the two work extremely effectively with each other. The gruff West Country stationmaster Saul Hodgkin (a role taken on many times by Arnold Ridley himself) is really pivotal – he has to relay the ghost story which sets up the action and James Pellow has the audience completely rapt as he narrates the ghoulish goings on. Daniele Coombe is a complete joy as Miss Bourne – the only true comic character  – and has the best line in the play. Matthew Hartley is irresistible as Teddy Deakin, the ultimate silly ass, complete with wonderfully tasselled plus-fours; he winds up every other characters wonderfully well. A joyous performance. Julia Main is electrifying as the mysterious Julia Price; her need to ‘see’ the ghost train sending her to the edge of madness. Strong support is also offered by Dominic McChesney as Julia’s brother Herbert and Pete Picton as the forceful Dr Sterling.

With really atmospheric lighting and sound, the audience can never sit still for long as the action is punctuated throughout with shocks and thrills; inviting involuntary gasps from the viewers. Visually the contrast between the drab surroundings and the classy period costumes – throughout the Season the work of Janet Huckle in the Wardrobe Department has been exemplary – is stunning.

This is an excellent production, expertly directed. It is a deceptively complex piece of work and has a trainlike pace to it – once it gets going it isn’t going to stop until the final curtain. Though there were a few moments where some bedding down of the production just held the action up a little, it is thrilling, absorbing and completely entertaining. A triumphant staging of a cracking piece of theatrical gold.


CAST & CREATIVES

SAUL HODGKIN – JAMES PELLOW

RICHARD WINTHROP – OWEN LANDON

ELSIE WINTHROP – ROSIE EDWARDS

CHARLES MURDOCK – CHARLIE BRYANT

PEGGY MURDOCK – HOLLY ASHMAN

MISS BOURNE – DANIELE COOMBE

TEDDIE DEAKIN – MATTHEW HARTLEY

JULIA PRICE – JULIA MAIN

HERBERT PRICE – DOMINIC MCCHESNEY

JOHN STERLING – PETE PICTON

JACKSON – TOM WILLSHIRE


WRITER – ARNOLD RIDLEY

DIRECTOR – DAVID JANSON

DESIGN – ANDREW BECKETT

LIGHTING & SOUND OPERATION & DESIGN – JOE UNDERWOOD

COSTUME SUPERVISOR – JANET HUCKLE

PHOTO IMAGE – ANDREW BECKETT

ARTISTIC DIRECTOR – PAUL TAYLOR-MILLS

SEASON PRODUCER – CLAIRE EVANS

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