“Do you know what they are, ghost stories? They’re a place to put things you’re too scared to look at any more”
Theatre of the Damned’s self-avowed undertaking is to explore horror and suspense on stage, a challenging mission as demonstrated by last year’s The Horror! The Horror! which only fitfully worked for me but one worth pursuing as this expanded version of The Ghost Hunter, written by Stewart Pringle, proves to be a highly proficient foray into the realm of suspense. And taking over the Old Red Lion theatre pub in Angel, it transforms the space most effectively.
Alice Saville’s design is simplicity itself, but it shouldn’t be under-estimated how effective stripping the walls of the intimate theatre right back to black, with just a strip of frayed pub carpet up centre on which a table and chair sit, pint of Abbot Ale pride of place. And from these well-worn surroundings, Tom Richards’ Victorian-garbed raconteur Richard Barraclough quickly pulls us into the world of York’s twisting narrow streets like the Shambles and regales us with tales of pale abandoned orphans and other spooky goings-on.
But Pringle soon confounds expectations as it turns out we’re in a world of cod-Victoriana, Barraclough is actually a modern-day ghost tour conductor and what ensues over this 60-minute monologue is less of a ghost story itself but rather an exploration of how and why ghost tourism has sprung up in places like York and on a more intimate level, why we like to tell ghost stories so much. So whether you’re a believer or not in things that go bump in the night, it’s a thoroughly enthralling piece of drama.
Jeffrey Mayhew’s direction navigates the ebb and flow of the writing with wonderful flair. Richards’ makes a compelling storyteller with his fine facial hair and booming charisma but is equally at home in the more intense quieter moments, unafraid of connecting directly with his audience members. And the unexpected vein of humour that cuts through the darkness adds texture to the experience and ensures a variety of tone which heightens the atmosphere as it wends its way to the final chilling revelation.