In the one you get the odd scream from the audience; in the other, you get rapt silence.
Oh, Whistle, And I’ll Come To You, My Lad by M.R. James and The Signalman by Charles Dickens are proving the perfect companion pieces under the title Classic Ghosts as they go on the road as the latest show from Middle Ground Theatre Company.
They play the Hawth, Crawley, from Thursday to Saturday, February 19-21.
The Signalman is Dickens’ unnerving tale of a tormented signalman who is haunted by visions of impending disaster on his isolated stretch of line. Can a well-meaning traveller, who chances upon the lonely signal box while out walking, calm the man’s fears before he spirals into self-destruction?
In the first half of the evening, Oh, Whistle, And I’ll Come To You, My Lad is the story of Professor Parker, a Cambridge academic on an out-of-season holiday at a bleak English east-coast faded hotel.
At an old graveyard near a deserted beach he finds an old bone whistle. On cleaning it, he discovers the inscription: “Quis iste qui venit” (“who is this who is coming?”). Blowing the whistle he awakens a disturbing supernatural force. A terrifying ordeal follows, and though his scepticism tries to dismiss his unearthly encounters, his eyes and ears cannot…
Terrence Hardiman, so famously Reinhardt in the classic ’70s TV series Secret Army, said: “It’s so interesting. I don’t know why, but the two pieces complement each other so well. The M R James is overtly a ghost story. A ghost appears. But in the other one, it is more about the internal problems that one of the characters, the signalman, has. They are such interesting pieces – and seem to work terribly well together.
“We can only judge really by the audience responses, but in the M R James, there are one or two vocal responses from the audience. In the Dickens, people watch in total silence. You sometimes wonder if they are still there!
“In the Dickens they are totally engrossed even though they are listening to some very old-fashioned language. It’s very Victorian in a very, very wordy way. These characters speak to each other in a way people might not be used to listening to now, but they are completely hooked.”
Not surprisingly, Terrence looks back on Secret Army as a seminal moment in his career: “I had been around for a while. I was in the theatre for the first ten years of my life, and then I went into the police drama Softly, Softly, but the next thing that really made a difference was Secret Army. They gave me a great character to play. The idea was that he was not a straight-up-and-down nasty German, unlike Kessler who was played by dear old Clifford Rose who is actually such a sweet man. Kessler was an absolutely vile Nazi. I had a part that was actually sympathetic.
“I remember after we had done it, I was doing a film in Paris in the days when you used to get time off. I had nine days in Paris when I was not required. They didn’t send me back home. I just had a wonderful time wandering around Paris every day and being paid for it. It was wonderful.
“And I went into a church one day, and I was aware of this couple looking at me while trying not to make it too obvious they were actually looking at me. The man came up to me and asked was I in Secret Army. I said yes, I was, and he said they were Dutch and had been watching it in Holland, and his wife was too embarrassed to come to speak to me.
“But then suddenly she came running up and said ‘I cried!’ and ran away. She had been very sad that my character had been shot!”
Tickets on 01293 553636 or online at www.hawth.co.uk.