Eighty years is a good shelf-life for any thriller. Arnold Ridley's The Ghost Train has been a repertory theatre standby for most decades succeeding its first London outing; I know that I've notched up a fair number of viewings at different playhouses since I first became hooked on theatre as a teenager.
This new production by Ian Dickens plays it straight, as a chiller-thriller of the Twenties with the social and dramatic conventions of that period taken as given and not brushed aside. It's a play written to keep within the theatrical unities - time, place, action - of classical drama very deliberately; Ridley is playing a neat theatrical in-joke with us.
Not that the suspense all depends on the cast. It may be a one-set play - we are in a railway station waiting-room on a branch line - but technical director David North has a welter of special effects to keep our eyes and ears engaged while an assortment of stranded passengers squabble and flounder ever deeper into a snowdrift of misunderstandings and cross-purposes.
Add in Saul the station porter (Victor Spinetti) and three denizens of the local big house (Wendy Morgan, Graham James and Geoffrey Davies) - not to mention legends and politics - and you have an explosive mix in which James Bond meets Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot with a dash of Alfred Hitchcock for good measure.
Well, perhaps not quite that, but you get the general idea. It's good fun with some neat period details in the costumes by Lindsey Bradford and the deliberately sepia colour scheme contrasted with stark black and white. And, of course, all those special effects to keep us all involved and wondering what is going to happen next. What does? Ah, that you'll have to find out for yourself. Safe journey!
- Anne Morley-Priestman (reviewed at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage)