THOSE expecting the horror or tension of contemporary ghost stories may be disappointed by Classic Ghosts, as it didn’t quite achieve the modern scare-factor, but for those gripped by classical storytelling this adaptation may be of interest.
Middle Ground Theatre Company’s Classic Ghost stories brought updated versions of Dickens’ The Signalman and M.R. James Oh Whistle, And I’ll Come to You, My Lad to the Wycombe Swan last night.
The bold attempts of modernisation through sound effects and lighting seemed a bit excessive, and distracted from the stories.
The two-part performance opened with James’ unnerving story of a ghost awakened by the blowing of an ominous whistle. Professor Parkins (Jack Shepherd) led the story with some lengthy scientific speculation on the existence of ghosts, before the haunting began. There were a few moments of tension, with a figure appearing under the sheets of an un-occupied bed, and a couple of jumpy door slams, but the performance lacked the charisma to really scare the audience.
The triple-layered set was inventive and interesting but fell short of its full effect, as the overlap between the stage and projected back screen was slightly messy. The sound effects of an old grandfather clock and the sound of waves were well-conceptualised but slightly too loud for the softly-spoken cast.
An abrupt ending concluded the first act without concluding a rather confusing story.
‘The Signalman’ was more promising. The intricate set, an old tunnel with a train track emerging and a rickety signalman’s cottage, complimented the creepy story. The use of sound effects, which seemed excessive in the first act, achieved an eeriness through clever timing and quick responses from the actors.
Dickens’ tale of a haunted signalman, plagued with the guilt of a railway accident, relied on the building of tension rather than quick thrills. Jack Shepherd and Terrence Hardiman made an endearing pair, and whilst I wasn’t on the edge of my seat, I was certainly invested in the fate of these two characters, and disturbed by the play’s ending.
The plays lacked the dramatic atmosphere which might have been achieved on a smaller stage or in an older theatre and the impressive sets weren’t quite enough to transport me to either James’ old hotel or Dickens’ signalman’s cottage.
Technology drew attention away from the actors in this performance, which was lavish, but not quite spine-chilling.
Classic Ghosts is at the Wycombe Swan until Saturday at 7.30pm with a Saturday matinee at 2.30pm. Tickets are £16 to £25, with a £1.50 booking fee. To book call 01494 512000 or go to www.wycombeswan.co.uk