It’s much harder to put a credible ghost on the modern stage than it is to do so on film. Somehow Shakespeare manages to make us suspend disbelief with the spirits of the departed such as Banquo, Julius Caesar, Hamlet’s father or Richard III’s victims. But it’s far trickier for a 21st century writer. Even when the play is The Haunting, based on one of Dickens stories of supernatural happenings, a genre to which he was drawn again and again.
[Hugh Janes has quite a good crack at it for this touring production directed by Hugh Wooldridge with an atmospheric set – a dust-infected library in a crumbling and isolated manor-house out on the moors – and a perhaps over-ambitious lighting plot by Nick Richings. There were technical problems at the opening performance in Westcliff, which didn’t help the audience’s receptivity. Nor did the sometimes monotone exchanges between the two main characters.
Lord Gray (Paul Nicholas) is selling the library’s contents and a young bookseller David Fildes (Charlie Clements) has come from London to evaluate the tomes. Fildes has his own agenda, not necessarily contained within leather-bound covers. And the ghost? She’s a girl called Mary (Emily Altneu) who materialises wearing the tattered remains of her wedding-dress. These appearances are quite well handled for the most part, but the final scene seemed to leave most of the audience baffled.