The Ghost Train, Norwich
CHARLES ROBERTS A revival of Arnold Ridley's lovable old war horse of a play is not a show to review, in the usual sense. Rather it is one to celebrate, as it takes old hands on a happily nostalgic trip, and introduces first timers to a piece of theatrical history and entertainment.
A revival of Arnold Ridley's lovable old war horse of a play is not a show to review, in the usual sense. Rather it is one to celebrate, as it takes old hands on a happily nostalgic trip, and introduces first timers to a piece of theatrical history and entertainment.
Yes, it groans. Yes, it's as hammy a script as you'll find among the mid-1920s genre to which it belongs.
Yet its attraction is that it sits in a beguiling time warp, where it has aged gracefully and still knows how to charm.
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For this long-time reviewer, it evokes cub-reporter/early drama critic days in the Midlands, nigh on 40 years ago, and amdram performances in nameless, uncomfortable village halls. Memories, surprising as it may seem, for which to be grateful.
And equally, here at the the Theatre Royal, Norwich this week, we can be grateful to director Ian Dickens and his company, who have lovingly wheeled out this classic spooky comedy with such affection, humour and skill.
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In their care, it might have stepped live out of sepia photographs from a well-thumbed scrapbook, complete with character voices and mannered narrative among which Bertie Wooster would feel exuberantly at home.
It's far from easy to project roles which radiate the hammy art of course acting, and to maintain it without a tremor. This company does it beautifully, allowing the 1920s essence to live again.
The sets and effects fit nicely into the same time span. You can almost hear a long-gone stage manager/designer giving considered advice: 'Now keep it simple, old chap, and faithful to the script, don't yer know, and we'll have those folks out front in the palms of our hands within seconds of the jolly old curtain going up!'
And so it happened last night, with a generous turnout of younger people in the audience enjoying every twist and turn, just like the rest of us. Not least when the spooky bits sidle in, and the eponymous ghost train roars through Fal-Vale's remote little railway station, roaring to its doom.
As already noted, a strong cast (11 of them) who work as an admirable team. But a word on silly ass Teddie Deakin (Watch him closely, there's more here than meets the eye), who is realised by Jeffrey Holland with the lightest of touches and the ability to attract major (comic) irritation… even if he isn't quite the 'young man' whom spinsterly old Miss Bourne addresses. Margaret Ashcroft portrays the old girl delightfully, and pinches a lot of limelight – even if she is out for the count for half the show, after a cognac encounter.
Out front, we were more fortunate. We were wide awake to take in and enjoy a period piece in period guise.
t The Ghost Train continues until Saturday June 22. Box office: 01603 630000.