Classic Ghosts (Tour – Theatre Royal, Windsor)
Classic Ghosts is a proper (there are actually two) ghost story. There are no tricks, no hugely fancy special effects, and no real monsters. Instead, the performance of these two short plays relies more on what is not said, and what is not shown. And it is all the more scary for it.
First of the two-play bill is Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad by M R James. It has the classic mix of run-down hotel by the sea, an old ruined burial site and a curious Cambridge professor, played by television veteran, Jack Shepherd. The use of silence and suspense is a brave decision, one that not many directors take now, but it works a treat.
The moments of darkness, flashes of shadows and the use of filmed scenes as a backdrop build the tension. You can feel the audience shift in their seats as they wait for an event that may or may not happen. This is slightly lost in the end scene. We see the professor become a victim of the supernatural, although he does not seem to perish, we have no idea how his story ends.
However, in a play that deals with the unknown, this is perhaps, the point. This piece is not the main event. It is equalled by The Signalman of Charles Dickens. This dovetails fabulously with the first story, as it too dwells on the supernatural, on illusion and on superstition. However, where there is hope in Whistle, there is to be no hope in this – although there is a more satisfying conclusion.
You feel from the outset that the signalman is a tortured soul. Shepherd captures the mental decline of this character superbly and his confidante's (Terrence Hardiman) steadfast logic only exaggerates his fragile state of mind. Each of the stellar cast puts in a top performance. The play abounds in knowing looks as the actors fulfil their roles in these old-fashioned tales.
No – the plays are not revolutionary. But, as the titles suggest, they hark back to classic ghost stories. They rely on nothing more than strong performances by the cast and the use of clever set design. If you fancy a story that goes bump in the night, then this is the production for you.
Classic Ghosts from Middle Ground Theatre Company is on national tour until 26 April.