Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Suspense on a platform of laughs

Ghost Train

Sutton Arts theatre, Sutton Coldfield
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; the cast stick 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 be-hatted and dressed appropriately for a railway journey, while the men are all 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 about  what the Vicar would think if she broke her vow of abstinence to take some brandy . . . purely 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 as well. 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. To 02-11-13
Gary Longden 

Home Reviews A-Z Reviews by affiliate