Lymington Players The Malt Theatre, Lymington Community Centre, Lymington Anne Waggott
28 January 2023
After a bumbling passenger pulls the emergency communication cord on a steam train, a mismatched bunch of passengers are left stranded at a rural Cornish train station overnight. As the creepy stationmaster reveals the ghostly secrets of the station, will the passengers stick together to survive the otherworldly threats of the night? Or will the ghosts of the station claim more victims before morning?
Building apprehension and foreboding right from the start, with a great choice of scene-setting music, visual and sound effects, I anticipated that (even being a dress rehearsal) I was in for a treat. How right I was!
Ed Funnell has directed a superb rendition of Arnold Ridley’s 1920s classic tale with an ensemble production of the highest quality. There are no weak links amongst the cast at all, and special credit to Funnell for stepping into the role of Richard Winthrop at the last minute; he may have had a script in hand, but it was never a distraction, rarely appeared to be used, and it was obvious how well he knows and understands the subtext of the play as he embraced Winthrop’s character.
What’s more, this knowledge and understanding has been passed along to the rest of the cast as they all become immersed in their characters, bringing an authentic period feel to the production. The dialogue and action are delivered at a cracking pace and with succinct diction, as seen in genuine films of the time, using clipped RP English voices unless the character intentionally slips into a different accent. The recognisable exception here is Jim Lockwood as the Cornish stationmaster, Saul Hodgkin, who’s rural tones relay the horrors of nights gone by to mesmerising effect.
It seems churlish to single out individual performances in such a wonderfully cohesive ensemble production, especially when each have their moments of specific brilliance. However, three I will mention are Rachel Mackay (Julia Price), as haunted a character as the station itself, Amanda Harber (Miss Bourne) for the understated subtlety she brings when her character seeks comfort, and Gary Mills (Teddie Deakin), who elicits every ounce of comedy from his character’s observations. Yes, there is humour amongst the impending terror… in fact there is something for everyone here!
Great care has been taken with staging; The Malt Theatre is a small stage with a relatively large cast, and it would be easy to appear cramped and overcrowded. However, with expert directional touches and the ensemble showing outstanding spatial awareness, there is no evidence of blocking at all. If one actor is momentarily obstructed from view, there is a minor shift of balance and all is resolved, so that everyone is visible at all times. The cast are confident to have their backs periodically to the audience, bringing natural movements to the action, and their diction is so good that they can always be heard.
The only exception to this is at the climax of Act 2 (I won’t expand too much… spoilers!), but the loudness of the sound effects at this point lends to an unseen character (thank you to a fellow member of the select audience for your observation here – how right you are!) and the physicality and gestures of the actors leave you in no doubt as to what is happening. The playwright may disagree, but it would almost be superfluous and inappropriate to hear what the characters are saying at this point! Actions, indeed, can speak louder than words.
A faithful and realistic set, excellent period costumes, hair and makeup, and a wonderful array of atmospheric sound and lighting effects all combine to enhance this first-class production. I was privileged to watch the dress rehearsal – all this production now needs is an audience. So ensure you have your tickets and climb aboard The Ghost Train for an evening of supernatural suspense and intrigue! Opens Monday 30 January until Saturday 4 February 2023 (7.30pm each evening).