Dickens’ noted short story ‘The Signal-Man’ has passed into the canon as one of the major ghost stories of the 19th century, adapted frequently in film and television versions over the decades since. But Ramesh Meyyappan’s version eschews ghostly explanations for the apparitions and incidents that foretell catastrophe for the lonely employee in the railway signal box, in favour of a more secular interpretation of the supernatural events of the tale. ‘The ghostly haunting in this adaptation is a little more

ambiguous,’ explains Meyyappan, one of the country’s foremost deaf performers. ‘I want the audience to consider if there is indeed a ghostly presence or whether alcohol, loneliness and the paranoia that both would create is the reason for “sightings’’.’ When developing the work Meyyappan was drawn

towards the history of working class West of Scotland males, the social acceptance of alcohol in their lives and the ensuing consequences of that. ‘The character is still quite endearing and his dependency on alcohol is almost excused by his situation,’ he says. ‘However, this is in no way a lecture on alcohol abuse, just another layer of the character which in turn creates the ambiguity surrounding a ghostly presence.’

Meyyappan’s work is geared toward the visual, and he feels the genre particularly exploits this. ‘I think we all enjoy any theatre which plays with our emotions and fear is one of the strongest I do think ghost stories also lend themselves to some strong visual ideas.’ But he’s aware that there are pros and cons to the adaptation of so legendary a tale. ‘I think one of the major advantages is that some of the audience will have read the story and so have their own ideas about the characters and the plot and they can follow the visual interpretation more easily.’ (Steve Cramer)

PREVIEW GHOST STORY THE WOMAN IN BLACK Theatre Royal, Glasgow, Mon 7–Sat 12 Jun

‘I think the trick is that it’s so simple.’ Actor Peter Bramhill’s explanation is as good as any I’ve heard for the phenomenal success of The Woman in Black. Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation of Susan Hill’s celebrated ghost story has been a frequent visitor to our stages since its first appearance in 1987, and fills houses with each visit. ‘Really, it’s just two blokes meeting

up to talk about something that’s happened in the past. There’s not much more to it than that; the creation of horse drawn carriages and so on is all done with simple props but it’s all about storytelling and atmosphere,’ says Bramhill, who’ll be playing the young actor visited by an older man with a ghostly tale from the past. If this doesn’t sound much, it isn’t, and the ghostly figure of the title isn’t much seen either, yet somehow it all contrives to tighten the screws nicely on an audience, who, invariably veer between screams and laughter, particularly over the latter stages. Of course, there’s a good deal of

moral and political commentary under the story as well, with its uncovering of the hidden history of a woman stigmatised by single motherhood in Victorian Britain being the germ of the mystery. But Bramhill maintains that this needn’t be at the centre for the audience. ‘It works on all kinds of levels it can have all that depth it’s all there, or it can be a good old fashioned scary story. The other great quality of it is that you can take either of those things from it and still have a good night out.’ (Steve Cramer)

REVIEW MUSICAL SWEENEY TODD Dundee Rep, until Sat 12 Jun ●●●●●

In too many of its retellings, the story of the demon barber of Fleet Street is a juvenile gore-fest that is all gothic thrill and little substance. Not so here. Stephen Sondheim’s majestic through-composed musical takes its cue from a stage adaptation by Christopher Bond that made the hero less of a melodramatic serial killer although there are bodies aplenty and more of a man on a mission. The Sweeney Todd we see here in James Brining’s brilliant production has returned from 15 years in Australia with good reasons to enact revenge on the judge who raped his wife and adopted his daughter. Played and gorgeously sung by David Birrell, he has as much righteous justification for his killing spree as he has psychopathic tendencies. You don’t exactly approve of his barber’s chair murders, but you can see he has a legitimate grievance, and his tragic downfall is more to do with excess than motivation.

All this would count for little if the company were not up to the vocal and

musical demands of Sondheim’s 1979 masterpiece. Happily, Dundee Rep proves itself more than worthy, pulling out all the stops with a 16-strong cast, a ten- piece band led by musical director Hilary Brooks and a marvellous modern-day set by Colin Richmond that gives the piece a sense of gritty, inner-city decay, reminding us that economic disparity has a role to play in this dark human story. It’s a stunning achievement. (Rebecca Donne)

92 THE LIST 27 May–10 June 2010