The second play in the Classic Ghosts double bill at the Grand Theatre this week is Charles Dickens’ eerie tale, The Signalman. As the curtains opened, it struck me what an amazing set this was. In spite of space limitations, there was a bridge over a tunnel, a length of railway track, a little bit of land and, of course, a signal box.
The main characters in this play were the signalman, portrayed by Jack Shepherd, and the traveller, portrayed by Terrence Hardiman. Shepherd is well known for several roles in television drama, including Phillip Saville’s BBC version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Ready When You Are Mr Mcgill, for which he won a Royal Television Society acting award. He has also appeared in many theatrical productions including the Mysteries and the Ice Man Cometh to name just two. Hardiman, whilst having an epic theatrical background, is well known for many television roles, including Poirot, Cadfael, Doctor Who and the unforgettable children’s show The Demon Headmaster. He also appeared in the musical version of the latter. With actors of this calibre, it was obvious that we were in for a treat.
The setting was a lonely railway cutting in the middle of nowhere. The mood of the play was immediately set when the signalman, attired in a Victorian signalman’s uniform, adjusted a lever in the box and watched a train go by. Obviously the stage did not have room for a real train, but the clever use of lighting, sound effects and smoke, produced the desired imagery. The signalman was then startled when a traveller shouted down from the top of the embankment. The signalman, who was working the night shift, initially thought that the traveller was someone else and appeared to be afraid. However, after mistaken identities were resolved, the two men became good friends, and spent several evenings chatting together in the signal box. The inside of the signalbox was extremely cosy, with homely elements which included bookshelves. When the traveller expressed his concerns about the loneliness the signalman must encounter, he was reassured to hear that he never became lonely, as he had his books from which he had learned many things.
As they discussed rail tragedies from the past, the traveller, and the audience, became aware that the signalman was perturbed by something, as he kept dashing outside with his lantern whenever a mysterious bell rang. The signalman and the audience could hear the bell but the traveller could not. This added to the plot and the feeling of anticipation that something bad was about to happen. During their discourses it became apparent that something was amiss. The sense of foreboding was then emphasised by the appearance of a ghostly apparition next to the tunnel whenever the bell rang. As the tale unfolded, I had a pretty good idea as to the outcome, which I will not disclose here. But it was a startling and shocking conclusion nevertheless.
With a plot by master storyteller Charles Dickens, an amazing set and eerie mists emanating from the tunnel, the mood was spooky to say the least. The ghostly apparitions, which added to the melodrama, and first rate acting had the audience on the edge of their seats for much of the performance. This was an extremely enjoyable performance of a classic Victorian ghost story.
You can read Sean’s review of the other Classic Ghosts performance, Whistle And I’ll Come For You My Lad, here.
To book tickets for the last two Blackpool performances, today at 2pm and 7.30pm, telephone the box office on 01253 290190 or visit the website.
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