Review: Classic Ghosts, Derby Theatre

Classic Ghosts TallI was expecting a spine-tingling evening – a fright-fest conjured up by two classic ghost stories from a top class touring company.

Was I clinging to the edge of my seat in fear? Well, no actually, as this production at Derby Theatre failed to deliver the necessary energy and tension.

When the audience is laughing rather than screaming during the spookiest scenes you know all is not well.

Middle Ground Theatre Company’s double bill Classic Ghosts starring Wycliffe’s Jack Shepherd and The Demon Headmaster Terrence Hardiman was therefore ultimately a disappointment.

Maybe I was expecting too much of stories well over 100 years old but the show definitely didn’t pack the punch I was after to entertain me on a cold winter’s night.

The first offering Oh Whistle, And I’ll Come To You, My Lad by M.R. James was set in a hotel on the edge of the Suffolk coast complete with a creepy howling wind. The video backdrop of the bleak shingle beach set the scene perfectly and the sound effects were spot on.

Cambridge academic Professor Parkins, played by Shepherd checked in for an out-of-season break and was given the room that made Rose the maid nervy.

Cue night time antics with knocking on doors, moving bed sheets and windows flying open. If you are an extremely sensitive soul your blood could run cold but it is best to probably enjoy it for what it is and not anticipate being terrified.

The second half gave us The Signalman by Charles Dickens, which was definitely the stronger of the two plays.

During the interval the set had been impressively transformed to create an eerily remote Victorian signalbox in a deep, dark cutting next to a tunnel.

This play told the story of a lonely signalman, played by Shepherd, who tended the isolated stretch of line and was haunted by disturbing premonitions.

Can the friendly traveller played by Hardiman drag him from his feelings of foreboding before tragedy strikes?

It was Hardiman who produced the better performance in both plays and pretty much saved the day for Middle Ground as Shepherd often seemed inaudible and unable to connect to the audience.

In the first half he may have been playing a confused professor but he took it a bit too far and wandered around the stage muttering incomprehensibly much of the time – maybe it was the wind drowning him out.

If you want to have a relaxing night at the theatre to while away the winter blues then you have until Saturday to see Classic Ghosts. Just don’t expect any goose bumps.

The rest of the cast was James Morley, as Albert The Boots and Tom; Dicken Ashworth, Mr Barnaby Fitch and the Inspector; Greg Fitch, the ghost and Wilf and Jenny-May Darcy, Rose the maid.

The plays were adapted by Francis Evelyn, the director was Michael Lunney and the production manager was Mat Larkin.

For ticket details go to http://www.derbytheatre.co.uk