Arnold Ridley’s classic comedy-thriller, The Ghost Train, was first produced in 1925 and has been a firm favourite with professional and non-professional theatre companies ever since. Six passengers find themselves stranded late at night in the waiting-room of an isolated Cornish railway station. Ignoring the ghostly tales and dire warnings of the stationmaster, they decide to stay where they are until morning – with terrifying consequences. Finally, all is revealed and the details of a fiendish plot are laid bare.
A NOTE ON THE ADAPTATION
The theatre professionals we’ve invited to read our adaptation of The Ghost Train have asked us what it is we’ve changed. This is exactly what we were hoping for. It was never our intention to re-write or modernise a play that’s been a firm favourite for almost a hundred years. The plot is perfect. The characters are credible and engaging. The dramatic structure is a model for well-made plays of the era. Our aim has been simply to refresh some elements of the dialogue to make the piece easier
for a modern cast to perform and a modern audience to enjoy.
The Ghost Train is a comedy-thriller and not a farce. It needs to be played with sincerity and – at certain points – with a degree of seriousness. This is the way that the true comedy of the piece can best be enjoyed, and the rather touching drama that runs through parts of the play can be shown in the most affecting light. As importantly, it’s only when the characters (and actors) on stage believe in the perils they are facing that the true horror of the night’s events can be seen and believed by the audience.
It’s not been our wish in any way to ‘update’ the dialogue, but there are expressions and modes of speech in the original that, being unfamiliar, can appear puzzling or unintentionally comic. These can distract the audience, disconcert the actor and disrupt the flow of the play. Wherever we have felt it helpful to make substitutions, we have tried to be true to the language of the period and to retain the rhythm of the original dialogue.
An issue we have tried to address is the relationship between the sexes. The attitudes of men and women in the 1920s were very different from those of today. This doesn’t, of course, justify any attempt to disguise or reform such attitudes but the language in which they’re expressed may jar. We have therefore re-phrased certain exchanges to make them more readily acceptable to a modern audience.
Would Arnold Ridley approve of the changes we’ve made? We’re confident he would. He was, above all, a man of the theatre. A play for him was what occurred on the stage and much more than what was written on the page. His maxim was always if it works do it. Copies of The Ghost Train in his archive show evidence of any number of tweaks and re-writes made to suit the requirements of a particular production.
We hope that our adaptation will bring new life to a play that’s given so much enjoyment to so many people for so long.
Jocelyn and Nicolas Ridley