The Haunting

A Ghost story by Charles Dickens, adapted by Hugh Janes
Bill Kenwright
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford

James Roache as David Filde and David Robb as Lord Grey
James Roache as David Filde
David Robb as Lord Grey

“I love a good fright” says director Hugh Wooldridge and, judging by last night’s packed theatre, he is not alone, and the audience certainly got what they had come for with enough scary moments and ‘jump out of the skin’ shocks to satisfy the most seasoned ghost hunter.

Simon Scullion sets the mood with his impressively spooky, dilapidated, cobweb-festooned study. Floor to ceiling bookshelves are packed with a lifetime’s collection of mouldering books, a smashed, dust-covered chandelier has obviously crashed to the floor long ago, a portrait of the previous owner hangs above the empty fireplace looking down menacingly on the scene and fog swirls in through broken windows. As the curtain rose, there was a ripple of appreciative applause and at the same time a sudden chill descended on the auditorium. The scene is set.

Trying to keep warm in this inhospitable setting is a young man sent to catalogue and value the books, the inheritance of Lord Gray who, pragmatically, wants the best price possible and is cynically suspicious of the rumours of strange happenings in the night, but the pointers to likely happenings are all there.

Of course the young man must sleep in the bed where the previous owner had died; of course he finds he is locked in the room alone at night; and of course there is the essential thunderstorm, but the shocks when they come are sudden and unexpected and enough to scare the pants off you—if only for a moment.

The normality of the dialogue between the two men as they discuss the books lulls us into a false sense of security, and sound and light (Jonathan Suffolk and Nick Richings) have a field day producing shrieks, bangs, rattling, tapping, and mysterious footsteps. They even manage to have the ‘last word’ at curtain call, and the apparitions are particularly well presented and very spooky. Everything is in place for a good ghost story and Laura Tindall’s eerie music adds to the atmosphere, yet I still felt something was missing.

Perhaps it is the very normality of the dialogue which, while increasing the shock value, lacks the creeping, menacing anticipation of horrors to come which keeps shows like Woman in Black at the top of the ‘must see’ list.

A two-hander is never an easy option, but James Roache, (of Eastenders fame) making his stage debut as the young man David Filde, acquitted himself well with a vast amount of dialogue, although with rather less emotional involvement than I would have expected given the circumstances. The more experienced actor David Robb (Downton Abbey) is, as Lord Gray, the very model of an authoritatively aristocratic Colonial gentleman, but rather world-weary and anxious to get the money for the books and move on.

As you would expect from the pen of Charles Dickens, the story is good, filling in a little of the backgrounds of both men and their families and events which relate to the present phenomena, even harking back to the Charge of the Light Brigade where Lord Gray’s brother died a hero leaving his brother to inherit. There is also a connection between David’s sister and the previous Earl which is finally explained.

Although slightly lacking emotion, the evening was very scarily enjoyable and I jumped and shrieked with the best of them, but I don’t think anyone will have trouble sleeping tonight.

Reviewer: Sheila Connor