The Signalman

One of my favourite ghost stories is Charles Dickens’ The Signalman, so when I saw that there would be a promenade performance of an adaptation of this piece at Harrow Arts Centre, I booked straight away. Written by Martin Malcolm and performed by Endpaper Theatre, it began with a silent sweeper (Rich Keeble) beckoning us across the dark grounds of the arts centre into the studio building, where we met the signalman of the title (Andrew McDonald).

The show cleverly intertwined Dickens’ story with the real-life train crash in which the author and his mistress Ellen Ternan were caught up. We spent some time in a room full of newspaper cuttings and other information about the accident, which caused several deaths. Dickens, who rushed to assist the victims, was profoundly affected by the experience.

So was the signalman in this version of the story: the accident was the first occasion in which he witnessed the ghostly presence of the figure by the tunnel. The audience by this time was seated at the production’s final stop, watching as he regaled the still-silent sweeper with the tale. This part of the play was enjoyable, but not as spooky or as impactful as it might have been.

Overall, though, the production deserves credit for the intriguing way in which it blended fact and fiction, and for the atmospheric promenade elements.


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