Review – The Ghost Hunter – Theater of the Damned at Old Red Lion Pub

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Stewart Pringle distinguished himself as author of the horror short “As Ye Sow,” which stood out amongst its B-movie brethren at a night of short Guignol/esque plays like a real corpse mixed in with the waxworks. So I was excited to get an invite to see his latest work, The Ghost Hunter, at the conveniently located Old Red Lion pub theater, and said yes without really bothering to read any of the publicity materials. I’d guess it might be spooky, and who would want to ruin the fun with an ill timed spoiler?

I really didn’t know a thing, even about the venue, which is tiny (it seats about 50). Feel free to bring your drinks in: while there’s no place to put them, the show only runs an hour, and as you watch ghost hunter Richard Barraclough (Tom Richards) put away a pint of Abbot, you’ll feel drawn to join in. Me, after an incredibly stressful week at work, well, I thought a double vodka cran was the way to go; it could only heighten the effect, right?

So now it’s time to get down to the review, and I find myself torn about how much to reveal. I loved the feeling of walking into a darkened room with a man in Victorian costume waiting quietly for us, eyes downturned, only to become animated as the lights dimmed; it seemed like a very good start to the evening. But … his pint glass has a label on it: how anachronistic! And yet … well, not, because as it turns out, Barraclough is actually the leader of ghost tours in modern York. I was a bit disappointed, as I liked the idea of a Victorian fright drama: you know, The Lady in Black is back!

But what we have to think about is what is really frightening, and, to me, a tale separated by 150 years is very easy to put out of mind when you walk away. Our Ghost Hunter spends a lot of his time talking about his work and where the tales that he tells originate, and much of it is quite … well, not banal, but rooted in normalcy. He’s clearly a good tale spinner, and you can see him working his magic as he ma)es the fluff he spins into cobwebs for his punters come to life.

However … at some point the barrier between our comfortable existence and a more uncomfortable possibility starts to come down, and by the end of the show, I can guarantee your hair will be standing on end and your heart will be aching for Barraclough’s terror. Much as in The Weir, Pringle takes the campfire ritual of the ghost story and turns it into a glimpse of a parallel, paranormal reality. Mmmm and brrr. In many ways, it was a thrill to walk out of this dark room, chilled to the bone, and into the late spring sunlight and Islington’s high street, and back into the comfortable assurance that “none of that is real, is it?” Because for a certain period of time, you, as a playgoer, will be convinced that it was.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, May 10, 2013. It continues through May 25th.)

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