Theatre: Light at the end of the tunnel

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Indy Lifestyle Online
The Ghost Train

Bristol Old Vic

It's very frustrating when you have to tear up four pages of finely- penned review. There I was scribbling away throughout the first two acts of , sharpening my scalpel for some acerbic demolition, when suddenly ... well I can't say what happened, this being a mystery play and all, but it surely put me right about anything that had been annoying me up until then.

Now I've got myself stuck. I'm reviewing a play which I can't tell you about for fear of spoiling the plot. All that can be praised unreservedly and with no risk of giving anything away is Mick Bearwish's set.

Mr Bearwish is a man of great versatility. After the exploding multifunctional extravaganza of The Man With Green Hair, he has returned to the stage of the Theatre Royal with a perfect atmospheric recreation of a pre-war station waiting-room.

For this is a play set firmly in the Twenties, with healthy dollops of Brylcreem all round and the sort of accents usually found only on old Pathe news reels (although it is debatable whether, as this production suggests, real people in the 1920s used the swooping cadences and hard emphases of the Pathe delivery as well).

On a dark and lonely night in the wilds of Cornwall - see, your skin's beginning to creep already - six people are deposited at a remote railway station, where they must wait overnight for the next train. The station master tells a frightening tale of the ghost train that passes through the station, and warns that "it be said that to look on the ghost train means death". "Bah humbug," is the rejoinder of the worldly metropolitan travellers - but then weird things begin to happen ...

It might have been nice if director Ian Hastings had not decided to play the production quite so heavily as pastiche, veering dangerously close to Oh Doctor Beeching at times. It means that the comedy so carefully positioned in the original script to offset the tension and mystery is lost in the general hilarity of it all. With so much caricature in the "straight" parts, the humorous interludes have to ascend to the terminal velocity of near-farce to make the desired impact.

It would also have been interesting to have seen the play performed as it would have been staged in the Twenties.

But these are just the moans of an old stick-in-the-mud. is very funny, a little bit scary, and generally absolutely spiffing entertainment. Ian Lavender plays up to the part of a jolly old plus-four wearing buffoon very well, and the comic timing is impeccable. Furthermore, the sound effects of arriving and departing trains - created afresh for every performance by a team of dedicated soundsmiths - are astounding, shaking the very foundations of the auditorium.

This production of will never rank as great theatre, and Twenties devotees will be sorely disappointed - although they should try to get a look at the set. But for a relaxing, well-performed evening of comedy with a few chills, this is just the ticket. It may be light relief - but who wants to watch Ibsen every night anyway?

`' runs until 6 June. Box office: 0117-987 7877

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