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A review by Vanessa Bunn for EXTRA! EXTRA!



Theatre of the Damned in association with The Old Red Lion Theatre present


The Ghost Hunter


By Stewart Pringle

Directed by Jeffrey Mayhew

Produced by George Warren

Designed by Alice Saville


Old Red Lion Theatre


30th April to 25th May 2013


A walk by Tower Hill Underground station on any given day ensures a visual assailment with posters, pamphlets and hoarding announcing an assortment of ghostly walks and competing ‘Ripper Tours’. The same location at nightfall sees the confident ghost-tour guides with shivering exited hordes around them stoop in for effect and swoop into their most menacing voices. A certain kind of buzz emanates from such groups, oozing anticipation and a willing, sometimes even wanton, desire to be convinced, to be drawn in and drawn on. The audience who file up the theatre stairs and into the delightfully intimate Old Red Lion for this play give off a similar impression.

Tom Richards is Richard Barraclough. With a penchant for Abbott’s ale and a fondness for repartee he holds court on the relatively sparse stage. With an uncanny ability to catch a gaze and hold it he reels each and every audience member into his world. Sat at a small round pub-table with a bag of tricks at his side he recounts a series of tales he has used in his business, the origins of the stories and their inevitable embellishments. His performance is earnest and consistent and while the script itself peaks and lulls, Richards’ delivery of it is admirably unswerving. He has a particular knack for the comic and sceptical which creates an intimacy between him and the audience. This bond is cemented when they are privy to his early toilet-break.

The Ghost Hunter is not a scary production. As an irrecoverable scaredy-cat I can assert this with some confidence. Having expected an edge of the seat, spook-a-minute affair it took a little while to settle into the actuality of the matter. This is a tale about storytelling and an exploration of the motivations behind the ghost-hunting trade. It also pays homage to York, a city which we are told is built on ghosts. Above all it is a reflection on the peculiar quirks of ghost-story tellers, those who make an occupation of delivering scary tales.

I once startled a ‘Ripper-Guide’ to the point of disgust when asked about the first thing that comes to mind when I think of the Jack the Ripper as a sort of ice-breaker. My answer came easily and without hesitation – very nice suits. With an awkward stare she walked away. I was not supposed to enjoy myself, I was not supposed to be at ease, and I was certainly not supposed to be vaguely attracted to the idea of the ghost we were hunting. The Ghost Hunter, decisively, succeeds in making the central spectre, a ghastly, abhorrent figure, entirely reprehensible. He creeps through other tales before becoming the centrepiece, forming an unusually useful thread through events. The seemingly safe distance between York and London means that however awful he might sound there is not really any fear of an encounter.

While not exactly a must-see, running at just an hour in a quaint pub-theatre, this vaguely macabre Victoriana show is a platform for some wonderful acting from Tom Richards, just don’t expect to be scared silly.




Old Red Lion Theatre, 418 St John St., London, EC1V 4NJ.

Box Office: 020 7837 7816

Tickets: £14/£12.50 (concessions) Pay What You Can Tuesdays / £10 Sundays




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