Everyone likes a good ghost story and so The Haunting packed a decent house on opening night at Plymouth’s Theatre Royal. And to judge by comments among the audience after the show, their thrill and scare quota had been satisfied.
Hugh Janes (Master Forger, Wide Blue Yonder, Time and Tide) has adapted the ghost stories of Charles Dickens into one short but spooky tale. Unfortunately, to my mind it would have been better left within the pages of a book as, despite the sterling efforts of the actors, the pace is somewhat slow and the frights predictable.
The story takes place in the dimly lit study of an old manor house where a young bookseller is to catalogue and value the cobweb-strewn library following the death of the elderly enigmatic Lord Gray. Young Filde is fascinated by the house, its history, the tales of ghostly goings-on and above all his family connection. Soon though he hears a woman pleading for help and sees someone lurking in the fog.
Any two-hander is hard going and The Haunting is no exception particularly with Paul Nicholas (Just Good Friends, Invitation to the Wedding, Blondel) playing the new Lord Gray somewhat one-dimensionally and with a deadpan tone. Probably how the upper class Colonial gentleman was written. Charlie Clements (Bradley in EastEnders) is excellent as David Filde bringing passion and pace to the otherwise somewhat turgid piece.
Simon Scullion (Linbury Prize finalist) has designed an impressive set with towering bookcases, fallen ceiling and crumbling walls. Dominating the room are the central French windows through which a tree can be seen, often swathed in fog. Unfortunately reflected in the windows are several of the red spotlights facing the stage which detracts from the atmosphere and believability looking instead like some TV mast in the distance.
Sound designer Jonathan Suffolk – assisted by lighting designer Nick Richings – can give free rein to his talents as most of the creepiness, shocks and atmosphere comes through the effects – whistling wind, hooting death owls, thunder and lightning, pleading disembodied voices and crashes as books fly from the shelves.
Somewhat predictable but surprisingly sufficiently thrilling for most of the audience.