Keeping pleasantly on track

cast of The Ghost Train

The Ghost Train

Wolverhampton Grand

****

I always liked Arnold Ridley as Godfrey in Dad’s Army. He had a charm that even I as a young teenager was always drawn to as the gentle grandfatherly type that you might make model airplanes with during a long English summer.

It’s a mild revelation then to find The Ghost Train, written by him in 1923, has a more macabre and saucy overtone, brought out to full effect in this production by Talking Scarlet, directed by Patrick Kearns.

Ridley, after his many attempts at being a playwright, was relieved that the play became his breakthrough piece signalling the start of his long career. The premise for the story also grew from local Midland roots as he was a member of the Birmingham Rep, back in the 1920s. It was a long steam train journey from Brum to Bristol that became the foundation of this his most successful play which also went on to become a film.

Excuse the pun but there are more Midland `connections ‘ now in this current  production  in the presence of Jeffrey  Holland, who plays the Station Master ,who not only is a Walsall Born chap, but who also appeared several times in Dad’s Army. 

So to the plot. A collection of ` well to do’ upper class types are forced to spend a long night in a draughty  cold waiting room, much to their disgust , and are treated to the ghostly tale of a runaway train that crashed some years before . The train is now a ghostly midnight arrival that is heard racing through the station at the same time each year, ever since the disaster happened.

Mr Holland as the Cornish Stationmaster played the part very much as a stand-up caricature rather than the dastardly evil cad he turns out to be. His real life wife Judy Buxton revelled in the role of the spinsterish Miss Bourne and she definitely got to ` lie down’ on the job as she spends half the play in a drunken stupour. I should perhaps make it clear that that fact is a feature of her character not a performance observation.

Capturing many of the laughs is Tom Butcher as Teddie Deakin who skips about in his plus fours to the annoyance of his stranded cohorts until the truth of his real identity is revealed. Ben Roddy as Richard Winthrop and Corrine Wicks as Elsie did a nice job to inject some genuine character into the proceedings, as the story of their failing marriage unfolds only then to be rescued by the night’s ghostly proceedings.

Finally the newlyweds of Peggy and Charles Murdock played by Sophie Powles and Chris Sheridan added to the other end of the marriage spectrum and were blessed with most of the `it’s devilishly awful and ` it’s a rightly a queer business ‘type of lines.

Overall The Ghost Train is a pleasant evening’s entertainment and that’s down mostly to the commitment and timing of the actors who make a success of this typically ` British Boys Own’ piece of theatre. It will definitely make you laugh and has a few well staged jumpy moments. One thing that did stand out though, in the light of complaints of the false Cornish accents currently heard in the new TV series of Poldark, is the total lack of any true Cornish dialect here.

Other than that though, it` B’aint arf bad. To 11-04-15.

Jeff Grant

07-04-15

Ghostly goings on

****

THERE are so many laughs in Arnold Ridley’s clever play you tend to forget this is a ghost story, but the edge-of-the-seat moments are just waiting to happen – in the waiting room of a lonely country station!

The man who became the much-loved character Private Godfrey in Dad’s Army, but was a real-life war hero, was inspired to write the tale after his own experience of being stranded overnight in a remote railway station.

Here a very mixed group of passengers reluctantly face spending the night in the bleak Fal Vale station in Cornwall because there is no train to the next stop, Truro, for nine hours.

Walsall-born actor Jeffrey Holland plays the old Stationmaster Saul Hodgkin who strikes fear into the travellers with a warning that the place is haunted, and anyone who sees the ghost train will die.

The humour is provided by Tom Butcher as the bizarre Teddie Deakin, and Holland’s wife Judy Buxton, playing Miss Bourne, an elderly spinster with a parrot in a cage. She doesn’t drink, but swallows a hip flask full of brandy to calm her nerves and sleeps through the second act.

On opening night the eerie mist got out of control and came down the waiting room chimney, but the sound and lighting effects worked well despite competing with constant bouts of coughing – not the nervous kind - in a section of the audience.

There is an impressive performance from Jo Castleton as the troubled Julia Price in an entertaining play, which has a clever twist, and is well directed by Patric Kearns.

The Ghost Train runs to 11.04.15

Paul Marston

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