Home   Lifestyle   Article

Subscribe Now

Charles Dickens' ghost tale based on three train disasters

The Signal Man at the Wesley Memorial Church, Oxford from March 11-28 * the show now extended to 31 March due to its popularity.Review by JON LEWIS

IN June 1865, the novelist Charles Dickens was returning home from France with his lover Ellen and her mother when the train was involved in a crash in Staplehurst, Kent, killing 10 people. Dickens helped look after the survivors.

The following year at Christmastime, Dickens published his short story The Signal-man which is concerned with a series of three train disasters. Last Christmas, right after the King’s speech on Christmas Day, Radio 4 broadcast Jonathan Holloway’s adaptation of The Signalman and it is this version that he has now reconfigured for the stage.

The Signal-Man Creation Theatre
The Signal-Man Creation Theatre

The Staplehurst incident is infused into the narrative, Holloway integrating biographical details inventively into Dickens’ already unsettling ghost story.

Holloway’s production, the second show from Creation Theatre Company’s repertory company, is enacted in the cavernous surroundings of the Wesley Memorial Church in Oxford city centre.

Two arched doors on the back wall perfectly suggest the tunnel on a railway line deep in a valley, a red light suggests dangers ahead.

The Signal-Man Creation Theatre
The Signal-Man Creation Theatre

A confident, articulate visitor (Nicholas Osmond) finds himself on a hike just above the tunnel and notices a figure down below to whom he waves, and subsequently joins.

The visitor learns that the figure is a lonely signalman (Anna Tolputt) who takes him to his signal box. Over a cup of tea, the signalman then weaves a story about a ghost whom he has seen twice waving at him by the tunnel entrance.

The signalman reveals that each sighting of the spectre has been followed by a tragedy with the trains. Intrigued, the visitor returns the next day when the signalman points to the ghost and mentions the ringing of the telegraph machine. The visitor does not see or hear these things. Bad things happen.

Holloway ensures that tension levels remain high as additional horrors are woven into the narrative. The cast, which also includes Herb Cuanalo and Giles Stoakley, is excellent, the audience hanging on to every word. Praise for another Creation success must also go to the company’s outgoing artistic director since 2011, Lucy Askew, who is moving on to pastures new.

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies - Learn More