The Ghost Train, Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne
Comedy, frights, and a very English slice of theatre: The Ghost Train steams in at the Devonshire Park Theatre this week.
Long before winning the hearts of the nation in Dad’s Army, Arnold Ridley was struggling for work, and scribbling playscripts through the night hours above his father’s shop.
The Ghost Train, the script that made it to the stage, was inspired by Ridley’s own improbable rail journey to see his sweetheart each weekend, from Birmingham to Bath, with a long overnight wait at isolated Mangotsfield Station. And thus the curtain rises, on a waiting room as forlorn and shabby as any in Britain.
Geoff Gilder’s set is actually a little spare and devoid of trappings, but it offers a suitably bleak welcome to the six travellers stranded for the night here in remotest Cornwall. The Stationmaster – an effortlessly masterful Jeffrey Holland – can offer them only cold comfort and a chilling tale to unnerve them all.
Now, gentle audience members, this is the moment to envelop yourselves in the smoky gloom… For you have to meet this play halfway. Let suspicion become fear become terror, and a fiendish plot (sorry, no spoilers here) will keep you on edge and hugely entertained.
Yes, of course it’s a period piece, with some creaky dialogue. But it’s still proper theatre, with a proper full cast – no doubling – and a proper, involving story. Patric Kearns’ direction squeezes out every twist and thrill, and the cast are all right on top of their characters.
Ben Roddy and Corrinne Wicks are the frayed married couple, bombastic and caustic in perfect balance.
Jo Castleton is a histrionic vamp and Judy Buxton is delightfully dotty Miss Bourne, the teetotaller floored by her first taste of brandy.
Judy’s own distinguished acting career actually includes the definitive Old Vic production (with stationmaster Wilfrid Brambell) in the late 1970s, when she must have been the merest slip of a thing playing naïve newlywed Peggy – the character recaptured beautifully here by Sophie Powles, and perfectly paired with Chris Sheridan. Naïve newlyweds Charles and Peggy are a perfectly paired Chris Sheridan and Sophie Powles.
Oddball and upper-class twit Teddie Deakin (Tom Butcher) has the audience chuckling. David Janson, John Hester and Jolyon Young give sound support.
Nothing deep and meaningful, but old-fashioned in the nicest sense: a jolly good show from Talking Scarlet.