A spine-tingling treat from spooky tales.
It should have been a stormy night; the wind howling a sad lament and the rain lashing down. But what atmosphere we lacked on the streets was more than adequately compensated inside the Wycombe Swan by a vigilant special effects team. Classic Ghosts opened last night and it more than did what it said on the tin.
The Middle Ground Theatre Company brought two ghost stories to the venue for a four-night stay with two veterans of the stage and screen at their helm. Of the two I was surprised to favour the opener – M.R. James’ Oh, Whistle And I’ll Come To You, My Lad.
It’s not the snappiest of titles, and it takes a while to get going, but prepared to be spooked once things start going bump in the night.
Two brave children sitting in front of me cuddled tightly into their dad as the magic of theatre began to bring the Edwardian ghost story to life.
It’s 1904. A professor, an irritating sort of cove who barely stops talking, turns up at an east coast hotel in the off season to enjoy a weekend’s golf with a chum.
He’s allocated the room that, inexplicably, puts the shivers up the maid. She doesn’t like going in there and we soon see why.
Off for a walk on the beach the irritating prof comes across a whistle bearing a strange inscription and, of course, he has to blow it. Huge mistake.
Jack Shepherd has the perfect face for the supernatural. Those piercing eyes and haunted expression are perfectly cast. He only lets the side down, as Professor Parkins, when having to let go of those emotions and appear terrified. He’s not entirely convincing.
His golfing partner is the former Demon Headmaster, Terrence Hardiman, who doesn’t really have a lot to do except play a few rounds of golf and occasionally come to his friend’s aid.
The real star of the show is barely seen which is just how it should be in a good ghost story.
I was jumping out of my seat. It certainly convinced me more than Woman In Black.
Surprisingly the less successful of the pair was Charles Dickens’ The Signalman – a strange tale of a railway worker haunted by terrible premonitions.
Both stories rely on high-tech video technology to provide backdrops and they’re moderately successful.
But it is the stories themselves that delight. It is a testament to the writers’ skills that, more than a 100 years after they were published, they can still make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck and continue to entertain.
Shepherd is a little difficult to understand at times and I’m not sure if that’s bad sound or the speed that he relays his dialogue. Hardiman, on the other hand, was as clear as a bell.
Both men give the stories gravitas and look at home in period drama. Earnest expressions are etched on their faces and they make the stories seem entirely believable.
Dicken Ashworth, as hotel manager Barnaby Fitch, has a worthy cameo in the first play and a walk on part in the second.
The remaining company fill minor roles but the emphasis is on the two stars who have the second act almost entirely to themselves…with the exception of a terrifying apparition.
Last night the wind howled its sad lament inside the auditorium but I can’t help thinking that this should have been touring in the autumn when everyone is more receptive to spooky goings on. Still, they kept me on the edge of my seat.
For lovers of traditional ghost stories.
Classic Ghosts runs until Saturday. For tickets call the box office 01494 512000 or visit www.wycombeswan.co.uk