When The Guardian’s theatre critic was asked for his choice of the greatest stage ghost story of all time, his answer was not, as might have been expected, The Woman in Black, but The Ghost Train, a comedy thriller written in 1923 by Arnold Ridley, who is less well-known as a playwright than as Private Godfrey, the most senior member of the Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard. Before Dad’s Army made him famous, Ridley wrote more than 30 plays, of which only The Ghost Train achieved notable success.
Ridley’s story of a group of travellers stranded for the night in a remote Cornish station was inspired by his own experience of a missed connection, while employed as an actor with the Birmingham Repertory Theatre Company. In his autobiography, he recalled an uncomfortable night spent at Mangotsfield Junction, near Bristol: ‘It was just about as lonely and gloomy a dump as one could imagine … I was awoken by a Bristol-Birmingham express rip-roaring by with a flash of lights and a scream of whistle.’ It gave him an idea: passengers stranded on a lonely station haunted by the shades of other passengers killed in a smash. Why not the ghost of the train itself?
This old-fashioned but superbly effective play is regularly revived. A comment by Jeffrey Holland – who brought his touring show to the Apollo a couple of years ago – sums up its perennial appeal: ‘It stands up because it is so brilliantly constructed … Each time you see the dead stationmaster’s red light swinging and hear the bell ringing in the distance, it still gives me a shiver even today.’
Come along and prepare to be terrified!
PLEASE NOTE: staged 30 June – 8 July 2017 (not Sunday or Monday)