[author-post-rating] (3/5 stars)
What starts off feeling like a self-indulgent take on a traditionally gothic Victorian ghost story gradually reveals itself to be a far more complex and multi-layered thing. Our narrator, Richard Barraclough (Tom Richards), is in fact the leader of a ghost tour around the city of York, telling his made-up tales for the titillation of tourists and school children. And yet… according to all the guide books, York is a city riddled with dark deeds and the subsequent ghosts, so perhaps, Barraclough hints, the stories are based in fact?
The show lurches from enjoyable melodrama to campfire ghost story, to cleverly debunking the whole industry of which it is itself a part. It’s a fine line to tread, and one that playwright Stewart Pringle manages well. Barraclough is an engaging host – and Richards an engaging performer – but his repartee does at times feel a little stilted. The slide into meta-theatre, where Barraclough steps back from his tour guide persona and opens up to the audience about the tricks of the trade, is nicely done, too.
It uses its small space well to create a suitable atmosphere, and the initial build-up to the punchline is well done, if laid on a little thick. It really gets into its stride when the cracks start to appear in Barraclough’s facade, though – is he starting to believe his own tales? He spins us a tale of the supernatural starting to impinge on his own life, even though, by his own admission, he doesn’t believe in ghosts.
The ending aims for properly chilling and doesn’t quite hit it, although the way the play pulls back to ask why we’re more scared of imaginary ghouls than real, human monsters is interesting. The script examines our need to turn atrocities into stories, to turn the murdered into ghosts or martyrs, but this is not its main thrust. As Barraclough puts it, “Ghost stories are a place to put things that you’re too scared to look at,” but although it hints at the true horror that might be living next door, it shies away at the last minute. The Ghost Hunter is a neat undermining of its own genre, and it just clever enough to pull it off.
The Ghost Hunter is at Pleasance Courtyard until 26 August. For more information and tickets visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.