There’s nothing quite like a good old fashioned ghost story to get the blood pumping and the heart rate quickening. In The Haunting a young book dealer visits Lord Grey in his crumbling Victorian mansion on the moors to assess his late father’s antique library, only to find the house has a secret.
Based on original stories by Charles Dickens and adapted by Hugh Janes, the show has all the elements necessary for a spooky evening; slamming doors, creaking floorboards, screaming ladies, and a children’s nursery rhyme tinkling in the background. Unfortunately, Dickens’ prose does not naturally lend itself to the stage and at times is slightly stilted with a whiff of melodrama.
Simon Scullon’s set oozes eeriness and begs the question why the characters would ever set foot in it, let alone spend the night. Walls of books are decorated with cobwebs, while antique lamps provide the flickering light that plays with the shadows. At times Nick Ritching’s lighting design feels a bit “Spooky 1.01,” and Jonathon Suffolk’s sound has the tendency to be startling, rather than atmosphere-inducing.
As Lord Grey, David Robb is stoic and upstanding in the face of the supernatural, which provides a foil for James Roache’s skittish book dealer. If Robb is a touch too reserved then Roache has a tendency to slip into modern mannerisms, which jars with his waistcoat and fob watch.
Both actors are excellent at building suspense, which has the audience curling up in their seats, but Hugh Wooldridge’s direction means that the peaks and troughs of tension are markedly obvious and the audience are never lulled into a full sense of security.
The Haunting certainly manages to keep the audience on its toes but stops short of being truly terrifying.
The Haunting plays at Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford until Sat 24 November and tours regionally.