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The Ghost Train

by on 13 November 2021

Strangers Off a Train

The Ghost Train

by Arnold Ridley

The Questors, at the Judi Dench Playhouse, Ealing until 20th November

Review by Emma Byrne

As Marie Curie famously said, “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.” But can you keep your head when surrounded by the inexplicable?   That is, in some ways, the theme of The Ghost Train – if a comedy thriller can be said to have anything as grandiose as a theme.

The play was originally written in the 1920s and has been in almost constant production since, both on stage and screen.  The three act structure is an anthology of genres: a comedy of manners instigated by the overnight stranding of six passengers in an out-of-the way station; a ghost story; and a good old fashioned thriller. 

This production leans heavily into the spooky, and also relishes the opportunity for a bit of sumptuous costume drama.  In fact the entire venue pays homage to the heyday of the railway, and the Grapevine Bar is offering themed cocktails – the All Change and the Ghost-tini – that definitely added to the atmosphere, if not to the ease of composing this review the next morning! 

On stage, Ben Martineau plays apparent Drones-Club flȃneur, Teddie Deakin, with lashings of “What ho! old fruit?” provocation, which is caught and returned with topspin by fellow strandees Richard Winthrop (Richard Graylin) and Charles Murdock (Tiny Sears).  Meanwhile Anne Neville shines as Miss Bourne when she hints at a rather more thrilling past than her budgie-toting, spinsterish present form might have us believe.

The stage is also commanded by Fiona Gough as Julia Price, with wide-eyed, hysterical terror.  Gough’s infectious frenzy adds to the psychological thrills of act two, as much as the multisensory special effects which, though they may not involve the lawnmower and tubular bells of the original production, heighten the anticipation of some horror – supernatural or otherwise. 

This production will delight anyone who enjoys a classic Christie (or who grew up reading the Famous Five who – in Five Go off to Camp – encounter a very similar scenario.) There are several clues for those with a sleuthsome bent and, as in the best mysteries, a red herring or two drawn across the tracks.  Despite the genre-blending and the comic elements, playwright Arnold Ridley – and director Simon Rudkin – play absolutely fair with Knox’s rules of detective fiction.  And while the play admits of a supernatural explanation, with a lovely reference to Conan Doyle, it acts as a timely reminder that those who would seek to terrify you often have their own ends in sight.

And regarding the cocktails: beware the Ghost-tini.  It may be sweet and sparkling, but it packs a wallop. 

Emma Byrne, November 2021

Photography by Robert Vass

Questors Q Extra also presents Fright Train, a complementary set of spooky stories in celebration of this production of The Ghost Train

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