Review: Classic Ghosts, Middle Ground Theatre Company, New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, until Saturday March 1
- Credit: Archant
Ghost stories demand atmosphere and this touring production has it in spades. Production design, sound effects and lighting help the actors give life to two Victorian tales of the supernatural.
The first play of the evening Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come To You, My Lad is by MR James finds a curious Cambridge University professor turning up in the windy east coast seaside resort of Burnstowe – a thinly disguised fictional Felixstowe.
He’s there to write and to play golf on the links but his natural curiosity awakens strange nocturnal forces which has everyone more than a little jumpy.
The second half of the evening is devoted to Charles Dickens’ classic tale The Signalman where a lonely signalman receives premonitions of disaster from beyond the grave.
This show is a hard one to review simply because although there is much to enjoy here, it also contains one of the most uncertain professional performances I have ever witnessed on the New Wolsey stage.
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This is surprising because the show has an experienced and rather starry cast. Terence Hardiman, well known from The Demon Headmaster and Cadfael, is particularly strong as Colonel Wilson in the first half and the mysterious traveller in the second. He is well supported by Dicken Ashworth as hotel manager Barnaby Fitch in the MR James chiller and the railway inspector in The Signalman.
Unhappily, the weak link was the star of the evening Jack Shepherd, best known for being Inspector Wycliffe in the long-running TV series. His Professor Parkins in the first half was not so much a bumbling professor, more of a mumbling professor.
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With his head permanently cast down and with his voice drowned out by the sounds of a howling gale, you couldn’t make out 90% of what he said. In any other performance I would have said that the sound effects were too loud but you could hear the rest of the cast quite clearly.
Fortunately, the situation was much improved after the interval and Shepherd put some real fire and energy into his performance as the lonely signalman. His words came across loud and clear and were delivered with a punch and conviction that was bizarrely missing in Oh Whistle.
Again the effects enhanced the story and the set looked so realistic that you could believe that they were setting signals and changing points at Derby Road.
This was an evening of two disparate experiences. The second instalment was a much better creation than the first – not only was the story better but the performances were far stronger.
Jack Shepherd has a long history in theatre and he knows what is required to put a performance across so why he gave such a confused and restrained performance in the first half is anyone’s guess.
The Signalman, in contrast, was a lovely piece of classic gothic theatre.