Cambridge's leading amateur theatre production company

Established 1981

The Ghost Train
 by Arnold Ridley   directed by Ron Meadows & Hilary Newby

The ADC Theatre, Cambridge, December 2000

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A Review of The Ghost Train
by Robin Dunn

It is probable, as I write this and you read it, that The Ghost Train is being performed in some venue somewhere in the world. This pot-boiler of the amateur circuit has been around since 1925 and been filmed in various forms since. It also provided the inspiration for many train station plays and films as well as no doubt providing Arnold Ridley with a steady income. Longevity and a revival at the Lyric, Hammersmith a few years ago gave it classic status; does it stand the test? Judging by the Bawds production at the ADC almost certainly yes. 

The play in the context of modern theatre, albeit neatly structured, has its weaknesses and it is therefore important to capture the atmosphere and mores of its time and setting. The ingredients of steam trains, ghosts, lonely isolated stations, a cold nighttime and disconnected characters provide the right setting for intrigue and romance. I could even discern a link to John Ford's Stagecoach and William Inge's Bus Stop but perhaps that's going a bit too far. Ron Meadows and Hilary Newby are to be congratulated on taking us back to a time when life seemed simpler, villains could be readily identified and the language was quaintly restrained  even in anger.
It was first performed just seven years after the horrors of the First World War so references to gunrunning and Bolshevism no doubt had a resonance to its first audiences. Brian Wesley's sound effects produced just the right atmosphere, which together with Mark Easterfield's lighting effects really did have the audience on the edge of their seats. We waited in anticipation of the train and when it came it felt like it was thundering across the stage. The performances were uniformly good with one or two individuals standing out. In parts particularly in the first act, I would like to have more movement as the actors addressed one another. 

The static playing over a prolonged period can become a little tedious. The directors needed to find ways to animate the conversations. Ridley uses classic and rather obvious - contrivances to produce dualogues by finding (sometimes-spurious) reasons to get certain characters off the stage it is important in the direction to try to ensure these features are not too obvious. The first act certainly needed a little more pace. Guy Holmes playing Teddie Deakin the idiot who of course turns out to be the hero detective excellently caught the tone and quality reminiscent of the Ben Travers farces and reminded me of Jack Hulbert who played the part in the original film version. Guy helped keep the action moving. Suzi Turton as Julia Price the disturbed runaway who turns out to be one of the villains also had complete control over her role and had us fooled.
All the other parts were well played with Derek Brown and Colin Lawrence giving their usual assured performances. It is difficult to give credibility to what today we would regard as card-board characters which have been parodied many times since the country yokel station master, the newly married couple in hurry to get to the wedding bed and stage policemen but this cast carried it off well and made us believe their characters and situations. Accurate costumes by Margaret Thorp, set design by Carole Sammon and props by Heather Lawrence all contributed to a fun and atmospheric evening's entertainment.