Reviews – The Ghost Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore
The Ghost Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore.
Tristan Bates Theatre, London.
7 – 19 March. Mon-Sat, 7.30pm
A terrific night out, creating a beautiful fusion of the finest form of horror literature with fabulously dynamic performances to bring a delicate mix of nuance, horror, metaphor and dark humour to life.
The Tristan Bates theatre is a modern-feeling venue, a black box seating seventy; it felt very intimate and close, and at times quite eerie when the lights went off, which for this performance was just right.
Sean Hogan and Kim Newman previously brought a selection of horror stories together for the stage in ‘The Hallowe’en Sessions and here they follow up that success by throwing a selection of travellers into a contrived train journey, where they tell a selection of stories, vignettes to be performed by the multi-skilled cast.
I absolutely loved it. It was an incredible balance of clever literary word work and fantastic performances. Initially the seven actors all seemed competent, but then as they went on to play a variety of pieces in each story, their skills shone, and indeed, scared.
The writing is hilarious, within moments of our travellers sitting down and their unpleasantness becoming clear, the audience are laughing at dark contemporary humour, riffing off recent well-known scandals, while smart language and profanity reflect more closely the mores and morals of modern society. Using traditional ideas of what we consider horror monsters, the authors skilfully show what monsters really are, that nothing is as monstrous as humanity, and the writers with their sharp razor-like ability to find angles in people, left the audience contemplating where the horror truly lies and what being a monster really is.
(Sean Hogan and Kim Newman toast the success of the Ghost Train line)
This was fantastic and gsve a great sense of placement and a contemporary feel to the play, while with smart stage work and lighting, we are transported from the group to their stories.
Christopher Fowler’s The Devil’s Children was frighteningly chilling. Creating a claustrophobic setting within a much more unpleasant surrounding, drawing on history, and the smart use of accents giving a sense of location, only enhanced the sensation of desperation and upset which were nerve rackingly palpable. I was so excited to see a number of people jump, scream and in one case fall off their chair in the audience when a simple piece of stage play occurred, but did so in such a slick and surprising way to take the audience totally unawares.
Cheeky Boy by Stephen Gallagher, was just incredible, the performance by Jamie Birkett, whose versatility was rapidly making her my star of the show, stole this section. She played a ventriloquist’s dummy, and I must admit, this is no short order and could have been rubbish, yet with some excellent dressing and a mask and a nasty story she absolutely made this piece come to life and she totally nailed it. It was unnerving and uncomfortable in equal measure.
Clever nuance and fine use of language really came through in Lynda E. Rucker’s very adept reflection on modern monsters. The use of the classic lore of the Vampire, metaphorically crashing into the understanding of modern shiny incarnations of the genre had the audience in stitches. The story beautifully captured the modern monstrosity of the selfie selfish generation, vain vulgarity undeterred by a mere ancient darkness. The level of humour was astounding, timed to perfection within the performance, at one with the writing, again down to Birkett’s ability on stage. I loved this piece, maybe for the wonderful juxtaposition of human monster and classic monster, a theme that was prevalent throughout the night. This was layered and had a depth to it and when matched with Birkett, and her stunning performance made it perfect.
Billy Clark and Jonathan Rigby really made Rob Shearman’s story of two actors dealing with their own career issues come to life. The soft proper English accent of Rigby meeting nicely with Clark’s sharp Northern Irish accent gave this piece an edge. I was well impressed how skilfully these actors portrayed talking about acting and the integration and intertwining of Macbeth, which both had performed in before, and which in many ways was back to haunt them. Of course the classic apparition that confronted the audience, was nowhere as dark or as a chilling as the moment in the conversation between the two men, when realisation of the level of betrayal and shame became clear.
Lisa Tuttle’s the Green Rest was delightful in its level of gore and gruesomeness married with dance and a lightness of the tale, there was again much dark laughter, while some excellent stage work and props made this hilariously dark in the right moments. Again it was interesting to see where in humans the darkness lurks. I was especially taken by Claire Louise Amias, who controlled this piece, speaking into the darkness of the audience to narrate and progress the story nicely.
The final piece by Kim Newman, Frankenstein on Ice was longer than its peers, but it was brilliantly done. Without doubt James Swanton who had already performed exceptionally well, was a crucial part of this, his just perfect geeky scientist persona, allowed a vast amount of reference to classic horror movies, in the best ways, not just dropped in for the sake of it, but in the case of The Things’, both of the movies, dropped in the references, in a natural and fabulous way without feeling awkward or clumsy or for the sake of it. The script was stunning here, really well put together. The setting was perfect, while both Jonathan Rigby’s American accent and Jenny Runacre getting a really good piece of performance going, being a voice in the sky gave it a perfect feel. While a discreet nod to many classic works, the modern Frankenstein, the way corporations work and the performance of Grace Kerr was incredible, doing stunning moves on the stage and bringing a new future looking story to the fore.
(some of the writers and cast of The Ghost Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore)
The versatility of all the actors was a huge part of the night’s enjoyment. Portraying fear, angst, claustrophobia and indeed various effects on their persons, was just brilliantly done.
The framing worked well – a fancy dress party, as one’s favourite monster on a vintage steam train, a very nice little conceit to create the right atmosphere for the portmanteau of stories. Strobe lights, sudden intrusions, the chimey tinkley creepy music as the stage went dark for the changes, the sound effects and stage work, props and masks/costumes all were just right, adding the perfect amount of tangibility for a lively suspension of belief.
The neatness of this play, juxtaposing humanity’s worst, in modern terms, a gossip columnist, politician, financier, pop star and corporate stooge with the classics of the horror genre, vampires, ghosts, Frankenstein and the devil worked fabulously, and left one contemplating and thinking exactly what it is to be a monster.
The Ghost Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore is a new portmanteau horror play, bringing to the theatre the flavour of vintage Amicus anthologies like Tales from the Crypt and Dr Terror’s House of Horrors. Featuring segments written by acclaimed authors Christopher Fowler, Stephen Gallagher, Kim Newman, Robert Shearman, Lynda E. Rucker and Lisa Tuttle, alongside a wraparound story by director Sean Hogan. Performed by Jamie Birkett, James Swanton, Grace Ker, Claire Louise Amias, Jonathan Rigby and Jenny Runacre. A Bad Bat production showing until the 19th of March.