Ghost Train- Sutton Arts Theatre, Sutton Coldfield

ghst train

Written in 1923, Ghost Train enjoyed significant commercial success playing to packed houses at St Martin’s Theatre London from November 1925 to March 1927, and has been reworked several times for the cinema. The author, Arnold Ridley, is better known for his acting role as Private Godfrey in Dads Army but this neat period piece is well worthy of revival by the talented Sutton Arts Theatre group.

Although ostensibly in the thriller/chiller genre’s, there is a strong comic element to this production. Teddy Deakin, played as a camp dandy by Dexter Whitehead provides the energy , but Myra Mitchell’s portrayal of the batty Miss Bourne steals the show for laughs. The dialogue is more P.G. Woodhouse than Downton Abbey, with the cast sticking to their accents admirably, but the language has not worn well , the frequent use of the word beastly to describe anything unpleasant sounding uncomfortably affected to 21st century ears.

The single set of a train waiting room works well, the sound and lighting effects adding mystery and credibility to proceedings thanks to Stage Director John Islip. Costume was well chosen, with the women properly behatted , and dressed appropriately for a railway journey, and the men soberly attired with the exception of the flamboyant Teddy Deakin.

As the curtains open the protagonists are introduced one by one. Dick Kemp is a wonderfully gnarled weather –worn station master telling tales of woe and foreboding. Warring middle aged couple the Winthrops are played by Ian Cornock and Suzy Donnelly, the latter of whom has some fine feminist lines, the sentiments of which are rather undermined by subsequent events. Newlyweds the Murdochs, Joseph Hicklin and Michelle Dawes, draw the maximum out of two underwritten roles while Christina Peak as Julia Price has great fun with her dramatic appearance and role. They are all stranded at a remote Cornish station after Teddy Deakin delays their train by pulling the communication cord causing them to miss their connection leaving them at the mercy of a ghost train, harbinger of death and destruction.

Recreating the sense of mystery and suspense that original audiences would have experienced is no easy task ninety years later, and Director Patrick Richmond – Ward beefs up the comedy in counterbalance .Dexter Whitehead admirably drives the ribaldry on stage, but sometimes the production could have been confident enough to slow things down a little bit to help with the suspense. That speed was particularly noticeable in a second act of barely half an hour.

Social commentary as played out by period scripts fascinates. Elsie Winthrop bemoans the caveman machismo of her husband, then leaps into his arms as quickly as Wilma runs to Fred in The Flintstones when the going becomes rough. Frippery and self-indulgence are condemned in the responses of dandy Teddy Deakin’s co-travellers. Eccentric spinster Miss Bourne is indulged, and looked after. She worries of what the Vicar would think if she broke her vow of abstinence to take some brandy to dull the shock of the evening’s events, no doubt echoing the sentiments of a post WW1 generation who acknowledged the benefits of austerity and sacrifice, but wanted to let their hair down once in a while too.

Tradition demands that such a play takes a dramatic twist, and Ghost Train does not disappoint with a false ending thrown in too. Although Miss Bourne sleeps through half of the production under the influence of brandy the audience do not with strong ensemble contributions from the entire cast. Ghost Train runs from Thursday 24th October to Saturday 2nd November.

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4 Responses to Ghost Train- Sutton Arts Theatre, Sutton Coldfield

  1. Joy Wright says:

    I am sure it is quite an insult to actor (amateur or not) to get their name wrong not only once but twice in the same review!!

    • garylongden says:

      You will have to ask the actor whether or not he was insulted.Six hundred words at midnight has its challenges, which I suspect Dexter W, as he will be known as hereonin, will acknowledge.Amended with thanks.

  2. Dexter Whitehead says:

    Great review , but are there really two Dexter’s in this production neither of which appear to be me ha ha ,, and also did I miss the episode of the Flintstones where Fred runs off from “Wilma” and marries Thelma ,, when will behind the arras site be working again as you know we Am Dram kids love the star ratings ,, but seriously fantastic review and thank you for the kind words I am sure you are aware that that Patrick dropped out due to poor health and I have had to wear the director hat and try and be on stage for the last four weeks so on Monday night we nearly had to pull the show altogether xx

    • garylongden says:

      Dexter, firstly my apologies, six hundred words at midnight has its challenges. The Flintstones missing episode is an exciting one………

      I was not told that Patrick had dropped out, your role as ringmaster was obvious, bloody well done!

      My error has been amended, (and you will be known hereonin as Dexter W.)!

      I think that Roger has explained our hosting difficulties which should be resolved shortly, with names corrected!

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