I have mentioned before on this website that I am a bit of a “wuss”when it comes to ghost stories. So I must admit as I entered the Hawth Theatre in Crawley last night to watch two ‘classic’ ghost stories it will come as no surprise to you that there were butterflies dancing in my stomach.
First on the bill was ‘Oh Whistle, and I’ll come to you, my Lad’ by M. R. James which is a traditional creepy ghost story with ‘things that go bump in the night’ together with a few squeals from the audience. The story is set in a hotel on the English coast at the turn of the last century where an elderly gentleman, Professor Parkins (Jack Shepherd) arrives for a golfing holiday. Whilst walking on the beach he happens upon an old bone whistle. Intrigued by it he picks it up and takes it back to the hotel. Later, whilst discussing his find with golfing partner Colonel Wilson (Terrence Hardiman) he blows the whistle where he sparks of a chain of supernatural events.
The play started slowly and lulled me into a false sense of security. It bumbled along, rather like it’s two main characters until the tension started to mount and there were certainly a few surprises that had me gripping my seat. Extra effects were cleverly projected onto a big screen at the back of the stage however it was the eerie goings on in the Professor’s bedroom that had us all spooked.
I thoroughly enjoyed Margaret May Hobbs’ adaptation of “Oh Whistle, and I’ll come to you, my Lad” and it left me wanting more. I did feel that there may have been more to M. R. James’ story as there were many questions left unanswered about who the spectre was and the ultimate fate of Parkins – but maybe we are meant to stay in the dark.
The second play was ‘The Signalman’ written by Charles Dickens and adapted by Francis Evelyn. As the curtain rose the audience got their first surprise. During the interval there had been the most amazing scene change. There was no trace of the seaside hotel but in it’s place was a dark railway cutting and a railway signal box at the end of a long tunnel.
It wasn’t only the scenery that was different. The whole play had a different feel to it. This time Hardiman plays a railway enthusiast who stumbles across the signalman (Shepherd) working diligently in his signalbox.
It becomes apparent that the signalman is troubled and over the course of the next two evenings tells the traveller of an apparition that appears at the end of the tunnel warning of impending disaster. On two occasions accidents have struck after the Signalman saw the ghost and now the ghost is appearing again. The Signalman is afraid and doesn’t know what to do. Does the ghost really appear or are the sightings in his mind? The audience is left to decide.
Both Oh Whistle, and I’ll come to you my Lad and The Signalman unquestionably complimented each other. They were both so different in their approach and beautifully executed. Shepherd and Hardiman bring their wealth of acting experience to their roles in both plays and are ably supported by a small supporting cast who as well as playing the supporting roles make all the special effects work like clockwork.
Terrence Hardiman told me that often people favour one play over the other, it was certainly the case between myself and my companion last night, although we both favoured different plays, we both found them to be very enjoyable .
With each play being under an hour long Michael Lunney has directed and designed a clever gem of an evening out that draws the audience in slowly and then leaves them hankering for more.
Classic Ghosts is produced by Middle Ground Theatre Company and is playing at the Hawth Theatre in Crawley until Saturday. It then continues on it’s tour for another three weeks to Brighton, Chelmsford and Jersey.