Reviewed by Ed Theakston
Ghosts and ghost stories, particularly in a city like Edinburgh, are all over the place. Ghost Hunter, however, takes a slightly different approach. It is an intelligent solo play performed by Tom Richards and written by Stewart Pringle that could leave even the most ardent of cynics questioning what they believe.
The play, which focusses on the city York’s host of ghosts, lunges between telling stories about the city’s hauntings and giving you an insight into the life of the ghost hunter himself. A Yorkshireman, a heavy drinker and a failed actor, Richard Barraclough is by his own admission not a believer in ghosts but sees their economic benefits. He leads ghost walks around the city, and knows all of the stories better than most.
Where the piece becomes most haunting, despite the relishable melodrama of the traditional gothic ghost stories, is in the suggestion that ghosts are in the mind; the play becomes about how people can be privately haunted by things they’d rather be able to forget, and ghosts themselves more the remnants of the atrocities man does to man than ghouls or spectres. Barraclough tells of how the supernatural is beginning to invade his daily life, but in ways he had not even imagined. Does he believe what he is saying? Are the ghost stories actually ever based in fact? It is a novel and well illustrated perspective.
Unfortunately, though, a number of things about director Jeffrey Mayhew’s production don’t quite fit together, which leaves the piece feeling somewhat muddled. Although on the whole well performed, the writing of the piece is rather dense and doesn’t always hit the nail on the head. There are strings of geographical and historical references which can at times become hard to follow, and the stories become so interwoven that it is easy to forget who is being spoken about. The piece could benefit from more moments of light; there is occasionally some much-appreciated comic relief, but not enough to avoid a monotony of tone. It builds to a strong climax but the ultimate payoff just misses the mark.
It is also a shame that the aesthetic of the piece is so dated. Barraclough is formally dressed in Victorian garb. This is an understandable decision but at times only serves to alienate. Richards’ delivery also sits rather uncomfortably somewhere in the middle ground between direct address, almost like a stand-up storytelling routine, and between a well rehearsed and staged monologue. There was a lack of flexibility and occasional stilted moments in the performance, and the shifts into meta-theatre don’t always work.
It is a very perplexing piece; the concept is strong and leaves you thinking long after you have left the appropriately dingy performance space, however the production itself is lacking in clarity. This means that unfortunately you are left feeling confused, rather than feeling chilled to the bone.
Director: Jeffrey Mayhew
Writer: Stewart Pringle
Cast: Tom Richards