The Haunting

Hugh Janes, adapted from the ghost stories of Charles Dickens
New Vic Theatre
New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme

Listing details and ticket info...

David Ahmad (Lord Gray) Credit: Andrew Billington
Richard Leeming (David Filde) Credit: Andrew Billington
David Ahmad (Lord Gray) and Richard Leeming (David Filde) Credit: Andrew Billington

Charles Dickens is primarily known for 15 novels which have become literary classics, their themes of social injustice, poverty and inequality being as relevant today as when they were written.

Dickens also wrote a number of short stories, some of them ghostly thrillers which enterprising writers have turned into plays. His most famous supernatural work is of course A Christmas Carol, while his 1866 story The Signal-Man, featuring a railway worker who has a series of apparitions which predict fatalities, is regularly performed on the stage.

Hugh Janes’s play The Haunting was first performed at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford in 2010. It’s based on several of Dickens’s ghost stories, and affords a creative team endless opportunities to give audience members a good fright.

Eleanor Taylor directs, while Michael Holt is the designer. He also designed Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation of Susan Hill’s The Woman In Black,which ran for three decades in the West End.

For this production, which is performed in-the-round at the New Vic, they are joined by illusion consultant Dr Will Houstoun. Between them, they produce virtually every effect you can imagine in a haunted house: books flying off shelves, doors slamming shut by themselves and logs jumping out of a fireplace. Loud bangs, eerie lighting and spooky music add to the sinister atmosphere and help to compensate for moments when the script doesn’t hold you spellbound.

Sometimes, the storyline is wordy, which can be the case in what is primarily a two-hander. But most of the audience revelled in the play, laughed at the occasional humorous lines and enjoyed being unnerved as they jumped out of their seats.

The Haunting features a young book dealer, David Filde, being employed to catalogue a private library. It belongs to Lord Gray, who is in considerable debt and has to sell the house, which has been in his family for a couple of centuries. Filde’s work will take him a few days, so he has to stay in the house—and sleep in the bed in which Lord Gray’s father died. It soon becomes apparent there’s someone else in the house. Filde can see an apparition; his lordship can’t.

David Ahmed is suitably aristocratic as Lord Gray. He is sceptical about what Filde claims is happening, his cold exterior evaporating when the house’s secret is revealed. Ahmed’s deep, powerful voice can be heard, whichever way he’s facing.

As Filde, Richard Leeming is initially deferential to Lord Gray, but as the young man settles into his work, he becomes determined to uncover what really happened in the house. Making his debut at the New Vic, Leeming gives a solid performance, although his voice doesn’t always travel to all sections of the auditorium. Jessica Hole plays the enigmatic Mary, making a brief appearance after the interval when the mystery is unravelled.

There are times when the tension in The Haunting could be ramped up even more. But on the whole, it’s acted well and it’s a really slick production that would chill you even on a warm, early summer’s evening.

Reviewer: Steve Orme

*Some links, including Amazon, Stageplays.com, Bookshop.org, ATG Tickets, LOVEtheatre, BTG Tickets, Ticketmaster, LW Theatres and QuayTickets, are affiliate links for which BTG may earn a small fee at no extra cost to the purchaser.

Are you sure?