At Hull Truck Theatre until April 25, then Theatre Royal, Wakefield, and Lawrence Batley, Huddersfield. Tour ends May 9. ****
What makes a good ghost story? Suspense, drama, mystery are all in the mix...Susan Hill should know, for she’s made a canny living out of the stage and screen versions of her novel The Woman in Black for many decades. Here is a theatre version of another of her novels neatly adapted by Ian Kershaw, and performed by the Oldham Coliseum company.
The problem with this particular genre is that it has to suspend belief and credibility, and that arguably a ghost yarn is best told on a dark winter’s evening in front of an open fire.
There is much to enjoy in Kevin Shaw’s meticulously crafted production, particularly the designs, the lighting and video, and the soundtrack, without which the entire evening would collapse in a jumbled heap. So hats off to Barney George, Lorna Munden, Simon Wainwright and Andrew Crofts, all of whom keep on popping new and usually unexpected effects at the audience with relentless glee. This quartet are the equivalent of a log unexpectedly cracking in the fireplace, as the storyteller recounts his tale, giving the listeners a jolt, a frisson of excitement.
A number of parts are delivered by a five-strong company, all playing it very much for real. The thread here is a search for a lost past, a missing child, half-hidden secrets and a deep vulnerability. We are part of a search for an obscured truth, and we are all involved in the fear of the unknown and maybe unreachable past. And, of course, it helps that the story is set in a vague Victorian days gone by, a time of gaslight and shadows. But, while it has atmosphere in spades, there’s never ever a sense of dread, or fear or foreboding.
It’s a decent story, with plenty of twists and turns, but it never once delivers that tingle of apprehension on the back of the neck – and there are no moments that jolt you from your seat. Well, crafted, expertly delivered, immaculate in every detail, but gasps of incredulity come there none. Supernatural, yes, spine-tingling, no.