To many people Arnold Ridley will always be the impeccably polite Private Godfrey in Dad’s Army, but before he made the catchphrase, ‘May I be excused sir?’ famous, he wrote more than 30 plays of which only The Ghost Train, penned in 1923, achieved notable success, running for 665 performances at St Martin’s Theatre and being adapted for cinema three times.
Almost a hundred years on, The Carlton Players under the direction of Jen Henry resurrect this delightful comedy thriller, importantly set in 1925, where a group of passengers are stranded in a Cornish railway station waiting room on a dark and stormy night. They have missed their connection because the ‘daft as a brush’ Teddie Deakin (Mark Prescott) pulled the communication cord on their train after losing his hat out of the window. Now stuck for the night, our group include an aggressive Richard (Richard Isles) and disenchanted Elsie Winthrop (Laura Smith), a married couple in the middle of an ongoing row; and Charles (Andrew S Jolley) and Peggy Murdoch (Tanya Wood), a newlywed couple understandably anxious to get to their hotel. Throw in a teetotal spinster, Miss Bourne (Stephanie McGill), with her parrot in a cage in tow, and all is not as it seems, especially when the stationmaster Saul Hodgkin (Barry Prescott) begins to tell a ghostly tale…
Nobody wants to leave but then nobody wants to stay when the hysterical Julia Price (Vicky Lodge) turns up with her brother (Gareth Crawshaw) and Doctor Sterling (Steve Youster) in hot pursuit. Then just as you begin to question whether Deakin can really be really that daft, Jackson (David Tolcher) appears and events take a turn for the…well, you’ll have to come and see for yourself. Not afraid, are you?
The challenge of putting on a comedy thriller is often which way to fall, and on the whole Henry has got the balance right with some laugh out loud humour offset by moments on the edge of one’s seat. The staging was kept simple and reflected the place and period well with little touches here and there and embellished further by a good choice of costumes.
Nick Fawdry had the sound effects down to a tee which in conjunction with lighting technician Brian Williamson made for an all-round pleasing production with composed performances from the cast, which included some new faces, and although there were a few first night nerves on show, I’m confident these will be quickly shrugged off. Prescott’s Senior and Junior (respectively father and brother to Henry) both gave strong performances and Lodge sparkled throughout as only she knows how.
The Ghost Train plays at The Little Theatre in Birkenhead 22nd – 26th March 2022 with performances starting at 7.30pm. Tickets are priced at £10 (£8) and are available via www.ticketsource.co.uk email@example.com or by popping in to Health and Home Brew Centre, 34 Oxton Road, Birkenhead.
The Little Theatre in Birkenhead is a delightful venue, made as much by the people who bring it to life like tonight as its building fabric and fascinating history, and after recent challenges it was a pleasure to see it spruced up with a new lick of paint and a loyal team championing its cause: it’s a much-needed part of the community and I always enjoy my trips across the water.
Carlton Players has two further productions scheduled this season: Curtain Up! 26th – 30th April 2022 and Agatha Christie’s Unexpected Guest 14th – 18th June 2022. Why not get along and give them some much deserved support. Further details www.carltonlittletheatre.co.uk
Reviewer: Mark Davoren
Reviewed: 22nd March 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★