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THE SIGNALMAN & THE WAITING ROOM Review – by Richey Estcourt

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The Signalman and The Waiting Room - Orchard Theatre

There’s only one thing better than a good, well-written thriller – and that’s two good, well written thrillers – which is precisely what we have at the Orchard Theatre in Dartford this week until Thursday!

Francis Evelyn and Michael Lunney have adapted two haunting plays, one each from Charles Dickens and more latterly, Robert Aickman, and delivered a brace of effective and gripping tales, which are sure to please audiences fond of suspense, mystery, and the paranormal.

The Waiting Room is set among the austere and newly nationalised 1940’s railway, and sees a travelling businessman stranded at the end of a desolate Yorkshire branch line. He has no choice but to spend the night in a freezing waiting room, which overnight, becomes the setting of gloomy, paranormal journeys. He encounters the ghosts of dead servicemen, and is reconciled with a young opera singer from his youth, who now takes the form of a supernatural ferryman, taking the dead on their final journey to the afterlife.

The Signalman, published by Dickens in 1866, and was strongly influenced by Dickens’ own experience of having survived the Staplehurst railway crash the previous year. The story explores the effect of isolationism and post-traumatic stress on a solitary railwayman, who has witnessed tragic accidents on the railway, and is haunted by spectral visions of a further impending disaster on his stretch of the line. He is befriended by a travelling railway enthusiast, who attempts to explore and understand the mental conditions of the signalman, yet with a grim predictability, the foretold tragedy occurs before the he can learn the signalman’s full truth.

Both stories contain a wider narrative. Aickman’s script describes the futility of the First World War’s carnage and the social divisions which enabled it. Dickens’ tale might read like a more common form of Victorian thriller, although the subtext of both plays are strongly directed by the post-traumatic condition, some decades before it was fully recognised by the scientific community.

A small but talented cast, including Jack Shepherd (Wycliffe) pull off both plays with utmost professionalism, and the transition of scenery in the show’s intermission is no less impressive. If you’re a fan of either writer, or the psychological thriller genre, this is a highly-recommended evening out in Dartford this week.

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