To say this play falls short of its expectations is an understatement. Reminiscent of a performance in a GCSE drama class, The Ghost Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore was repetitive, two hours too long and lacked complexity and depth.
Starting promisingly, the play depicts five characters: a failed musician, a politician and her ‘crook’ husband, a gossip columnist, and a doctor who has brought them all aboard a party train. Amusing to begin with, director Sean Hogan (who also wrote the framing story) created what seemed to be an entertaining rapport between his on stage characters. Actors Jamie Birkett and Jonathan Rigby were particular stand outs for their comic timing. However, Hogan vaguely mentioned former relations between characters, and even touched upon political issues such as austerity, for it to never be followed up – causing myself and I imagine the rest of the audience to question the reasoning behind bringing it up at all.
The five separate stories within the narrative, which were portrayed by the actors use of multi-rolling, were a continued disappointment. Whilst the writing itself was unimaginative, and not particularly scary (considering the play falls under the genre of horror), Hogan’s directing did little to bring these stories to life. Failing to create that ‘jump’ effect, at times the stories seemed comical and rather a mockery of horror stories than an attempt at a genuine portrayal. The stories had cliché endings and were accompanied by clichéd dramatic techniques – actress Jamie Birkett dancing around in a blank white mask explicitly reminding me of a year 9 drama lesson. I would also suggest that all the actors continue to practice dying on stage – on all occasions their deaths were unconvincing, and at times, (especially in #Goddess) laughable. Frankenstein on Ice, the final of the stories, was dull to watch, overly long, and I questioned the point behind the character of Gala (Grace Ker) in particular, who seemed only to be there to show off a toned physique and randomly dance at points where it made little sense. Only the prosthesis used for the ventriloquist doll in Cheeky Boy could be deemed genuinely scary. On the whole, the acting was wooden, unvaried and uninteresting. Frequently people stumbled over their lines and some even appeared unable to stand in a natural manner when acting; Hogan failed to breathe any life into his performers and therefore failed to make interesting the already tedious writing.
However, the impassioned speech performed by Rigby in Dead Scotsmen, about actors struggling for work and self-belief, was a truly poignant moment of the play. His line “You don’t have it in you to be Macbeth”, was one that presumably spoke to cast members and audience alike on the topic of rejection. In that moment alone, I felt a connection with the play.
In spite of this triumph, the scene transitions between the stories were awkward and fumbling, the clumsiness of which was distracting and diverted my attention from the play itself. Using repetitive music, frequent blackouts, and lots of loud movement from stage hands and the actors, contributed even more to the GCSE atmosphere of the production.
Getting past all of that, the ending confirmed my suspicion of the play’s absence of depth and complexity. The twist was childish, and the ending which (obviously) resulted in death, was incredibly uncomfortable to watch, thanks to a blackout not occurring fast enough.
All things considered, the play was a horror, but perhaps not in manner Hogan intended.
The Ghost Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore is playing at Tristan Bates Theatre until 19 March 2016. For more information and tickets, see www.tristanbatestheatre.co.uk