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Criterion Theatre
The Haunting (2022)
Charles Dickens adapted by Hugh Janes
Sat 29th October to Fri 4th November
Memory
Director – Keith Railton
Assistant Director – Jon Elves
Production Photos
Cast
David Filde – Ted Mcgowan
Lord Gray – Peter Gillam
Mary – Louisa Ruscoe
Crew
Stage Manager – Helen Withers
Wardrobe i/c – Pam Coleman
Props – Sally Patalong
Props – Erica Young
Props – Bill Young
Props – Helen McGowan
Props – Frances Dixon
Props – Les Rahilly
Set Designer – Bob Morley
Set Build i/c – Mandy Sutton
Set Build – Christopher Hernon
Set Build – Terry Rahilly
Set Build – Michael Waterson
Set Build – John Stanton
Set Build – Simon Sharpe
Set Build – Paul Tate
Set Build – Frances Dixon
Sound Designer – Becky Bartlett
Lighting Designer – Karl Stafford
Artwork – Paul Tate
Set Paint – Judy Talbot
Set Paint – Paul Chokran
Music Composition – Mary Mohan
Prompt – Jonathan Rees
Set Build – Mark Ward
Set Build – Gordon Booth
The Programme
The Play

Review comments on this production

"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... 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." Nick Le Mesurier, Leamington Courier

"Perfect for halloween, this modern blend of five Charles Dickens' ghost stories really has audiences on the edge of their seats...The Haunting proved to be an irrestible project for veteran director Keith Railton who called on the resources of a hugely creative team, not least in creating the truly splendid baronial manor set then getting a composer to add dramatic music and a lighting engineer to produce enough stunning special effects to chill the blood." Barbara Goulden, Elementarywhatson.com

"...under the shrewd direction of veteran thespian Keith Railton, the Criterion has done author and playwright proud. The set... is ideal for the chilling events that unfold. So are the sound-effects and lighting. As for the two main characters, Ted McGowan perfectly captures the earnestness and growing fears of the young London book-lover and Pete Gillam plays Lord Gray with aplomb. Books fly from shelves. Voices wail and even his lordship is cowed by the events that unfold. Almost a full house was there for the early-evening showing on the eve of hallowe’en. Most were on the edge of their seats – or on the edge of my seat in the case of my wife who kept digging her fingers into my forearm at regular intervals." Chris Arnot
 

'The Haunting' is a spine-chilling play, based on several original ghost stories by Charles Dickens.

In an ancient, crumbling mansion, sheltering from the howling winds that tear across the surrounding desolate moorland, two men stumble across a dark and terrifying secret that will change both of their lives.

When a young book dealer, David Filde, is employed by a former associate of his uncle to catalogue a private library, he finds an incredible array of rare and antiquated books. But as a series of strange and unexplained events conspires to keep Filde from his work, he realises that if he is to convince his sceptical employer that the mysterious phenomena he is experiencing are real, they must journey together to the very edge of terror, and beyond...

Production notes

This production contains strobe lighting effects and loud noises.

This play may be deemed scary for some audience members, and not scary for others. It's down to individual interpretation. It may not be suitable for those with a nervous disposition or who cannot handle sudden shocks. We would suggest that it is not suitable for young children. 

 

EDI Assessment

In line with our EDI policy, we undertake an EDI impact assessment of all our artistic programming. ‘The Haunting’ has no specific diversity message within its narrative. The play can be cast with complete neutrality on race/ethnicity. Its themes call for gender specificity in certain roles.

Reviews

The Haunting, at The Criterion Theatre, Coventry, 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. 

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 Ruscoe. 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.

Nick LeMesurier

 

Perfect for halloween, this modern blend of five Charles Dickens' ghost stories really has audiences on the edge of their seats at The Criterion. Adapted for the stage by Hugh Janes, The Haunting proved to be an irresistible project for veteran director Keith Railton who called on the resources of a hugely creative team, not least in creating the truly splendid baronial manor set, then getting a composer to add dramatic music and a lighting engineer to produce enough stunning special effects to chill the blood.
 
Stars of this Victorian melodrama are Peter Gilliam who plays languid aristocrat, Lord Gray, with a brilliant sense of timing as he sniffily fails to make welcome eager young book valuer David, played by Ted McGowan. Ted has us all on his side right from the start as we join in his mounting terror.
 
Finally there's the ghastly appearances by the apparition Louisa Ruscoe wailing for help from beyond the grave. Or is it from beyond the wood pannelled bookshelves?
 
A confusing denouement, perhaps, but a play not to be missed if you want to embrace the onset of dark winter nights and clocks turning back.
 
But do note, because of the extra Sunday performance, starting at 5pm - when the theatre was packed - you can only enjoy this fright night up to November 4.
 
Barbara Goulden
 
An unsettling wind begins to howl even before the curtains open to reveal a decidedly unsettling setting. At first there’s near darkness. Then the slim young man dozing in a large armchair rouses himself and lights a lamp. It soon becomes evident that we’re in an imposing, book-lined room with a skeletal tree just beyond the far window. This is wild moorland country. Yes, there’s shelter from the wind in here but little in the way of hospitality.
 
The owner Lord Gray is an arrogant aristocrat. The young man has come all the way from London to evaluate those books. But what should be a labour of love for a lover of leather-bound tomes soon becomes a venture into terror. “I regard literature as the buttress of pedantry,” proclaims his far from hospitable host. He wants money for books that he has evidently inherited but never read. And that’s just one of a quite a few resonant lines from a play by Hugh Janes based on the works of Charles Dickens.
 
Janes has somehow blended five of Dickens’ short stories, reflecting the great man’s fascination with the supernatural world. And under the shrewd direction of veteran thespian Keith Railton, the Criterion has done author and playwright proud.
 
The set, designed by Bob Morley and assembled by too many set builders to mention, is ideal for the chilling events that unfold. So are the sound-effects and lighting. As for the two main characters, Ted McGowan perfectly captures the earnestness and growing fears of the young London book-lover and Pete Gillam plays Lord Gray with aplomb. Books fly from shelves. Voices wail and even his lordship is cowed by the events that unfold.
 
Almost a full house was there for the early-evening showing on the eve of hallowe’en. Most were on the edge of their seats – or on the edge of my seat in the case of my wife who kept digging her fingers into my forearm at regular intervals.
 
A haunting production for sure.
 
Chris Arnot
 

Halloween haunting keeps theatregoers in suspense

For various reasons, it’s been a while since ECHO’s reviewer has had the pleasure of seeing a play at Earlsdon’s Criterion Theatre. The theatre's website preview of Hugh  Janes’ play The Haunting whetted the appetite, and a captivating production on a dark, clocks-back-an-hour Sunday aftemoon just before Halloween didn't disappoint.

Charles Dickens is considered a master of the ghost story, and this tale, blended from several of his best and adapted for the stage, bottled the essence of his craft. Ghost stories are by their nature somewhat formulaic, but director Keith Railton and his company blended the ingredients superbly to scare, absorb and intrigue the audience by turns. 

Sound and lighting effects combined from the start to set the atmosphere as young bookseller David Filde (the assured Ted McGowan) dozes in a chair. The room is dark. Outside, a howling gale rages in a storm-dark sky. Filde is soon joined by the aloof and tetchy Lord Gray (an excellent character study from Peter Gillam). He’s clearly nursing some dark family secrets but anxious all the same that the sale of his late father's fine library should clear the estate’s considerable debts.

Soon, old books begin to do what old books in ghost stories do, falling from the shelves at random moments. Doors bang for no reason. Noises above (tiles falling from the roof?) and a mysterious voice wailing ‘help me’ repeatedly notch up the tension. Arch rationalist Lord Gray is sceptical. But when, on the stroke of the interval, a ghostly young woman in a tattered bridal dress  appears in an armchair (excellent work from wardrobe and make-up), backlit - of course - by a timely flash of lightning, we are left wondering quite how his lordship will explain that away.

He doesn't, and slowly a tale of doomed young love across the rigid divide of social class looms out of the darkness of the Gray family's fog-shrouded past. Did murder at the hands of Lord Gray's father, perhaps through imprisonment and starvation in a priest-hole hidden behind those troublesome bookshelves, put an end to it?

It appears so. However at the denouement, exactly what happened ‘back then‘ remains as mysteriously shrouded in uncertainty as many of the unexplained events that mark Filde’s stay. A dream? A premonition? Dickens, playwright Hugh Janes and the Criterion team combined skilfully to keep us in suspense up to and beyond the play's end. False trails abound. A menacing and ghostly white tree framed in the library window preys on our minds. Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment may be a clue or may not. The cynic and the credulous, hand in hand in ignorance.? Whether siding with Gray or Filde, ours was a satisfied and suitably entertained ignorance as we departed  into a night of shadows.

Earlsdon Echo

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