Review: Encounter the other side of reality with The Haunting in Coventry

Nick Le Mesurier reviews The Haunting at the Criterion Theatre, Coventry

'Ted Mcgowan and Peter Gillam work well together, the one portrayed with frenetic energy, the other an almost statuesque detachment'
'Ted Mcgowan and Peter Gillam work well together, the one portrayed with frenetic energy, the other an almost statuesque detachment'

The Haunting is a classic ghost story, replete with strange noises, mysterious clues and a legacy of dark deeds that refuses to settle.

The plot is simple enough and is based on a number of stories by Charles Dickens. Young David Filde (Ted Mcgowan) arrives at the remote and chilly home of Lord Gray (Peter Gillam) to assess the value of his late father’s library. Lord Gray is deeply in debt, due it seems to his father’s excesses. The library is packed full of rare and valuable books, but it also contains something else. A strange atmosphere pervades the place. Soon inexplicable noises are heard at night, books fall off their shelves, and a voice is heard, pleading for help. Then there is a terrible scream.

Naturally, the young man is terrified, but his host appears coldly indifferent, both to the noises and to his guest’s wellbeing. At first, he claims to be a rationalist, and notions of ghostly ramblings are the stuff of folklore and gossip. But then, as the interruptions become more frequent, and David Filde begins to dig deeper into the mystery, he too seems to become convinced that there is something terrible in the house, something that cannot be explained by means of reason.

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    But all is not as it seems. The twist at the end, which I won’t reveal, comes as a satisfying surprise, and ties all the loose ends of the story together. Meanwhile we are treated to a host of clever effects and an atmosphere which, no matter how familiar the tropes of the ghost story may be, still manages to stir the imagination and cause the pulse to beat a little faster.

    Much of the credit must go to the stage management, those too often unsung heroes of the theatre, who behind the scenes make things happen, and without whose skill no play would be a success. The effects are genuinely creepy, and the music, composed and recorded by Mary Mohan, is dark and original. The set is a fine recreation of damp and dismal Victorian gloom, and the lighting is eerie.

    Special mention must go, too, to the ghost – yes, there is one – convincingly played by Louisa Rusco. Her tattered costume and ghastly make up are just right for the play.

    For a ghost story to work we must all be persuaded to suspend our disbelief. After a few nervous laughs, the packed audience clearly surrendered its detachment and became fully involved in the play, drawn in not least by the playing of the two leads. Ted Mcgowan and Peter Gillam work well together, the one portrayed with frenetic energy, the other an almost statuesque detachment, two opposites who are gradually drawn together as the story unfolds and a terrible secret is revealed.

    Charles Dickens was fascinated by the supernatural and was a master of atmosphere. Hugh Janes’s script samples the master’s skill to create a classic in itself. As the nights draw in and winter approaches, it’s time to encounter the other side of reality. The Haunting will give you plenty of spooky thrills.

    The Haunting runs until November 4. Visit criteriontheatre.co.uk to book.