The Ghost Hunter

Thu 1st – Mon 26th August 2013

reviews

Kayte Williams

at 01:18 on 21st Aug 2013

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I wish I knew what makes 'The Ghost Hunter' enthral your attention for an entire hour, whilst other one-man shows drag after five minutes. It must be something to do with Stewart Pringle's great writing, Tom Richards' excellent acting, and the small, spooky room giving the impression that you and the ghost hunter are having a conversation.

The atmosphere changes wildly and instantly from terrifyingly spooky to humorous and cynical – one minute you're on a ghost tour visiting the haunted sites of York, another minute you're chuckling with the guide about the gullibility of punters nowadays. It's hard to know whether the message of the show is 'Ghosts are real and terrifying', or 'People will believe anything these days!'

The witty writing gives the one character in this one-man show a friendly air. His elderly colleague's walking stick becomes, over time, “less decorative than structural”, for example. Director Jeffrey Mayhew's use of the audience also keeps the show interesting, as an individual member is picked out to act either as a helper or a victim in the ghost hunter's scaring tactics.

To pick out a fault, sometimes the staging can be a little too stationary. No writing or acting in the world should keep an actor sitting still on a stool for a quarter of a show. However, great props such as the ghost detector, which looks like something from Ghostbusters, add variety. I'm also not sure about the Gregorian chanting as introductory music, in a show with Victorian scenery and costuming. However, the lighting was clever and inventive, using a torch and bare light bulbs to increase the intimacy of the situation.

If you're coming just for a few spooky stories, you'll have to wait till near the end to be totally terrified. The ghost hunter's everyday life as a tour guide takes up at least half the hour, interspersed here and there among the ghost tour spiel. The ghost hunter endures hen parties, school tours and the cheapening of his profession into lies and melodrama: “Spooooky Tours. With four O's.” This could bore those who came just to hear something grisly, but it keeps up the variety. More importantly, it suggests that the real horrors of our times - abuse and loneliness, perhaps - are nothing like the stories we hear from the ghost tours ubiquitous around the country. When these two storylines finally collide, the result is so powerful you'll remember it for a long, long time.

The show's description as a 'one-man chiller' is even more accurate than it looks. What's chilling isn't just the ghost stories, but the disconcerting ricochet between the familiar and the horrific, the everyday and the ghostly. 'The Ghost Hunter' is likeable and funny, a portrait of a man who sees the funny side of the ghost tour industry. But he's equally frightening and discomfiting, as our friend's darkest secrets unravel before our very eyes.

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Victoria Ferguson

at 07:22 on 21st Aug 2013

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I was thoroughly confused for at least the first fifteen minutes of ‘The Ghost Hunter.’ Perhaps I missed a crucial bit of scene setting as I prudently screwed the cap back onto my water bottle and returned it to my bag (I didn’t want to take any risks. It’s a ghost story, for crying out loud). But when Tom Richards stepped out on stage in a cloak and top hat and sporting an impressive moustache and sideburns, I assumed that this was going to be the haunting tale of inexplicable happenings in an eerie corner of Victorian York. Needless to say that I was baffled when Richards started chatting to the audience about his pain at being a supporter of Brentford FC and the inconvenience of building a TK Maxx on a haunted burial ground. I’m not averse to breaking the fourth wall, but isn’t that taking metadramatics a little far?

In fact, Richards plays Richard Barraclough, who is a modern day ghost tour guide. While this is basically a generous term for “failed actor” (his words, not mine!), he nonetheless has a good go at gripping the audience with the tales of some of York’s most infamous ghosts.

Not scary enough to be a ghost story and not light-hearted enough to pass as a comedy, ‘The Ghost Hunter’ feels more like an anecdote that your favourite uncle would tell you over a pint. There’s no doubt that he’s a good storyteller, but you listen more out of politeness than out of uncontrollable interest. Barraclough proudly recounted how one tour he conducted had to be cut short because the children were so terrified by his story. I wanted to be terrified by it too, but ultimately it felt like a cop out to suggest to the audience: my story is terrifying, but you’ll just have to take my word for it.

The setting for the piece was well chosen. The Bunker is small and dark with the feeling of an old chapel. I was therefore ready to be scared stiff by the thought of blood dripping down the stone walls or disembodied voices echoing around the dingy hall. The only moment at which I felt any tension, however, was in the final five minutes of the production and, even then, the cliff-hanger upon which the lights went down was insufficiently chilling to make up for an hour of banterous monologuing about life as a ghost tour guide.

Tom Richards is a good actor, and you would be happy if you got him as your guide on a ghost tour of York. But if you’re really looking to give yourself nightmares, I’d sooner recommend you take a look at what they’re charging for drinks along the Mile.

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