by Arnold Ridley.

Royal Exchange Theatre St Ann’s Square M2 7DH To 20 June 2015.
Mon-Fri 7.30pm (except 9 Jun) Sat 8pm Mat Wed, Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described 13 Jun 2.30pm.
BSL Signed 18 Jun.
Captioned 11 Jun.
Relaxed Performance 9 Jun 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.

TICKETS: 0161 833 9833.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 1 June.

Staging ingenuity leaves the plot to look after itself.
Late last century Bristol Old Vic pulled-off a theatrical coup at the curtain-call for their production of Arnold Ridley’s 1923 comedy-thriller. The set’s rear wall opened to reveal the stage management team and the machinery by which they had, eschewing recordings and modern technology, been creating the sound of the mysterious nocturnal express rattling though a lonely rural station where a motley group of travellers are stranded.

There are no scenic walls at the in-the-Round Royal Exchange. So director Paul Hunter – who has imported several members of his physical and comedy troupe Told By An Idiot – is upfront and creates engine, screeching brakes and rolling-stock sounds visibly on stage, the whole orchestrated with conductor’s baton from an actor atop one of the strange pieces in Laura Hopkins’ set.

Comic ideas continue, notably the playing of Miss Bourne by Spanish actor Javier Marzan. Meanwhile Amanda Hadingue takes on recalcitrant station-master Herbert Price. The two produce very different results, Marzan’s stately lady is finely judged: as reserved in performance as she is in character. Saul is a deliberate caricature, who eventually has to start removing his stage beard swiftly, in full view, as Hadingue switches mid-scene between him and Julia Price.

So there’s comedy and ingenuity. But the largely bare space does little for the sense of claustrophobia among people, angry or nervous, innocent or with concealed agendas, as the station-master prepares to desert them and go home.

Individuals and couples emerge and fade with their dialogue, allowing little sense of character tensions. Even the device of having the script, with stage directions, read out in the opening minutes as sounds are created live seems something less than the atmospheric use of live sound in Theresa Heskins’ Dracula recently at Newcastle-under-Lyme’s New Vic.

Then, as it seems the whole thing’s going to end-up about as involving as a night on a deserted railway station, Ridley’s plot thunders down the line, explaining the ghost train’s true nature, and the set elements are assembled for a triumphant theatrical conclusion. Like several trains I have experienced, it’s a long-time coming but welcome when it arrives.

Teddie Deakin: Calum Finlay.
Julia Price/Saul Hodgkin: Amanda Hadingue.
Richard Winthrop: Sam Alexander.
Elsie Winthrop: Ayesha Antoine.
Miss Bourne/Herbert Price: Javier Marzan.
Charles Murdock: Will Merrick.
Peggy Murdock: Lena Kaur.
John Sterling: Femi Elufowoju Jr.
Jackson: Joanna Holden.

Director: Paul Hunter.
Designer: Laura Hopkins.
Lighting: Paul Anderson.
Sound: Adrienne Quartly.
Assistant director: John Garfield-Roberts.

2015-06-09 10:25:45

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