The Ghost Hunter (Edinburgh Fringe)
This eerie show at the Pleasance follows a ghost hunter as he recounts a terrible tale to tourists
In the abstract, the idea of a monologue by "a ghost hunter" is about as far from being up-my-street as it's possible to imagine. It's a tribute, then, to Stewart Pringle's talent as a writer and thinker that I came out of Ghost Hunter both impressed and troubled, with my mind racing.
The line that Pringle treads lies between a tangible enthusiasm for tales of "the supernatural" and an intelligent secular humanism. With no mention of heaven or hell, the "ghosts" of this story are more echoes of man's inhumanity to man than clanking spirits clad in white sheets making "wooo wooo" noises.
Set in York from the 70s until the present day, our narrator Richard Barraclough (Tom Richards) charts the landscape of Britain's industrial decline and reinvention into tourist destination and service economy. The ghost tour in this context becomes a stark, uncomfortable fracture in an increasingly Disneyfied landscape; the mass murder of York's Jewish population in the 12th century and the horrific conditions in which the poor lived isn't something that tourism usually chooses to recall.
Here, the chills down the spine under discussion aren't caused by a ghostly presence but by the idea of places absorbing too much atrocity to ever feel comfortable again. It quickly becomes impossible not to think of the eerie quiet of Auschwitz or the unaccountable feeling of strangeness which haunts the streets of Berlin or Pristina.
At the same time, The Ghost Hunter is not a dry exercise in historiography. Pringle knows exactly how to spin a yarn, and Richards – unshowy-ly directed by Jeffrey Mayhew – has the precise measure of how to tell it.
What's more, the show manages to have its cake and eat it, delivering an expertly judged pay-off in the best tradition of all the best ghost stories. The whole recalls the works of other masters of affectionately postmodern rebooted Victoriana like Mark Gatiss or Steven Moffat. On this showing, we can expect to see Pringle writing Doctor Who and Sherlock well before the end of the decade.
The Ghost Hunter continues at the Pleasance Courtyard until 26 August 2013