With the success of 2:22 A Ghost Story on the West End and tour, and with the Enfield Haunting due to arrive soon, audiences no doubt love a ghost story. One of the originals, E. Andrew Leslie’s 1962 play, inspired the film The Haunting and the recent Netflix TV series, although that gore fest only really shares its name with the material. The play at the Headgate Theatre, presented by Headgate Theatre Productions, is a more sedate affair and does show its age; it creaks so much it’s positively arthritic in the first act.
Dr Montague gathers a group of strangers in Hill House to test the haunting and ghostly apparitions, and Eleanor, a lost soul, particularly, channels the spirits. However, a skilled cast, a superb set, and hugely atmospheric lighting and sound make this an entertaining evening, despite there being fewer things that go bump in the night for modern audiences.
Les Chisnall centres the play perfectly as Dr Montague, handling the mass of exposition skillfully. Emily Daniels is perfectly frightened as Eleanor, with Lisa Wakely an effective opposing voice as the more down-to-earth Theodora. George Penny does well with the underwritten part of Luke, heir to the house, and Sasha Hal as Mrs Montague and Joseph Sales as Arthur, providing much-needed comic energy. But the show is stolen by Christine Davison’s gloriously campy and spooky Mrs Dudley, making the most of scene-stealing lines!
It’s not an easy play to direct, with much of the action occurring just offstage, but Eleanor Kent makes a fine directing debut. The action is portrayed confidently. The echoes and sounds that we hear really add to the atmosphere, and live-action and recorded work synergise beautifully. Although you must be patient, the ending is thoughtful—is the house really haunted, or is it all in the mind?