The Ghost Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore Theatre Review
Written by Hamzah Sarwar
Written by Sean Hogan, Kim Newman, Christopher Fowler, Stephen Gallagher, Lynda Rucker, Robert Sherman, Lisa Tuttle
Limited run at Tristan Bates Theatre 7-19th March 2016
A multi-storied portmanteau production brilliantly titled The Ghost Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore played in London's West End for a limited run in March. An anthology evoking the spirit of Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror comprises six stories by an eclectic blend of horror writers including the likes of Sean Hogan and Kim Newman. As with any collection of stories, some tales unsettle while others flatter to deceive. In this case, the train runs out of steam in an overly drawn out second act but not before it turns a few heads along the journey.
A train passages through to an unknown destination carrying a group of strangers. There’s a monstrous representative from every walk of life: an egotistical banker, a potty mouthed politician, a trashy journalist, an out-of-sorts rocker and even a man lain out drunk on the floor. Ironically, each is dressed as their favourite archetypal monster as part of a mysterious fancy dress party with a devil, vampire, doll, ghost and even an unconscious Frankenstein monster. The group is challenged by their hostess, Dr Lark, to tell a scary story of their respective monster to the rest of the group. And so the tales begin.
First up is Christopher Fowler’s The Devil’s Children which feels like the standout episode in what transpires as a classic tale of false identity. Think John Erick Dowdle’s tremendously under-rated thriller Devil (2010) on a much more intimate scale. An English student is trapped in a lift in St Petersburg with an unknown Russian man. It’s a haunting tale of past horrors that grips with suspense and sends shivers down the spine with a gloriously creepy ending. Stephen Gallagher’s Cheeky Boy features a deceased ventriloquist’s life-like dummy conjured back to life to illustrate its grim past. The comic highlight of the evening is undoubtedly Lynda Rucker’s Goddess, a bizarre myth of the vampire given a new lease of life for the social media generation. It’s welcome light relief and the evening thus far is brimming with theatrical delights.
Robert Sherman’s Dead Scotsmen tells the twisted tale of a pair of ageing Shakespearean actors. A mysterious curse taints Macbeth as one actor haunts the other. A story of regrets and betrayal crossed with a brooding ghostly awakening. Lisa Tuttle’s The Green Rest returns to the tried and tested roots of a pagan burial ground beneath a family’s new home. It’s arresting yet hardly breaking new ground.
One of the very final stories of the evening is Kim Newman’s Frankenstein on Ice, the episode that was most anticipated results in the weakest of all the entries. A confusing depiction of scientists’ efforts to uncover the secret of Frankenstein deep in the Antarctic. Having unearthed the perfectly preserved corpse of the monster, a series of twists and turns together with a contrast with a new form of AI tie the segment into a messy knot. A strong message of the toxic outcome of altering with God’s plan is strong but is lost among the comic inertia.
On the whole, while this independent labour of love isn’t perfect and the wraparound story by Hogan doesn’t entirely fit, there’s much to admire in the individual episodes which make for a pleasurable evening. Here’s to more horror theatre in the British Isles.