The Ghost's Touch!

John Goodrum, based on the story by Wilkie Collins

Rumpus Theatre Company

Pomegranate Theatre, Chesterfield

From 14 September 2017 to 16 September 2017

Review by Steve Orme

Wilkie Collins is primarily known for his 1859 mystery novel The Woman in White, his work nine years later The Moonstone—considered to be the first modern English detective novel—and his collaboration with Charles Dickens.

John Goodrum, founder of Rumpus Theatre Company, discovered that Collins had written a short story or “little novel”, The Ghost’s Touch!, otherwise known as Mrs Zant and the Ghost. He turned it into a play which Rumpus produced in 2012; now it is being revived for a tour which continues until February 2018 after opening at Chesterfield’s Pomegranate.

The plot involves widower Stephen Rayburn and his young daughter Lucy paying one of their customary visits to Kensington Gardens. She becomes frightened after seeing a woman who she says might be mad.

The woman is Mrs Zant whose husband has recently died. They acknowledged their love for each other in the gardens and she goes there because she thinks she can see his ghost.

While those around her do not take her seriously, Rayburn is irresistibly attracted to her. He wants to help her overcome her fears and regain her health. But tragedy ensues, causing guilt, blame and condemnation to come between them.

The Ghost’s Touch! is a two-hander, with five characters appearing only as voices. At first it seems odd to see Rayburn conversing with his daughter who is not there and Mrs Zant being chided by her brother-in-law John, voiced chillingly by Goodrum.

During the interval, several members of the audience tried to decipher hidden meanings and predict the ending. Everything is made clear and takes on greater significance once you realise how it all fits together.

Mark Homer as Rayburn holds the production together masterfully. He does not command the stage with a powerful presence but has an understated, natural way about him which makes him endearing.

He draws you into his situation and you feel for the widower bringing up his young daughter alone who has feelings for the attractive if mysterious woman he meets by chance.

Early on, Terri Dwyer is suitably enigmatic as the shadowy Mrs Zant. She elicits sympathy for the way people treat her as she struggles to overcome her grief and loss. Dwyer comes into her own towards the end when she is distraught at a tragedy which threatens to have irreversible consequences for her relationship with Rayburn.

There is little colour in the production, Mrs Zant wearing funeral black and Rayburn dark clothes on a bleak set. However, the reasons for the gloomy environment become apparent at the end. Keith Tuttle’s lighting and David Gilbrook’s sound add to the sinister atmosphere.

The Ghost’s Touch! is not an edge-of-your-seat, chilling drama that maintains a vice-like grip throughout. It is a well-crafted, finely acted piece that needs a fair amount of concentration.

The production calls on you to use your imagination and not make any assumptions. By doing that, you can get more out of it and will want to discuss its composition and meaning long after you have left the theatre.