Regular visitors to this blog will know what a fan I am of the Hammer suspense thrillers. But in the 1960s, their greatest rivals at the British box office were Amicus, the company that specialised in anthology horror films, features made of several short films with a linking narrative. The Ghost Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore is a new play that celebrates their output – it opened on Monday and will be running in London until 19 March at The Tristan Bates Theatre – for more details, and to book tickets, click here.
I just saw it and had a splendid time and have written a brief review below – but first, here’s the blurb:
Five people are invited to a fancy dress party on a vintage steam train. The guests are told to come in costume as their favourite monster… and every monster has a story to tell.
As the promotional materials tells us, The Ghost Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore is a new portmanteau horror play, bringing to the theatre the flavour of vintage Amicus anthologies like Tales from the Crypt and Dr Terror’s House of Horrors. It is made up of six segments by (in alphabetical order) Christopher Fowler, Stephen Gallagher, Kim Newman, Robert Shearman, Lynda E. Rucker and Lisa Tuttle, with the ‘wraparound story’ provided by director Sean Hogan. The cast includes Claire Louise Amias, Jamie Birkett, Billy Clarke, Grace Ker, Jenny Runacre and James Swanton as well as Jonathan Rigby (who incidentally I know a bit), the actor-director-film historian who not only can be found on the Blu-ray extras for the aforementioned Dr Terror’s House of Horrors but who is also the author of the seminal, and recently updated, history of the genre, English Gothic: Classic Horror Cinema 1897-2015.
We begin in a train compartment where the five guests of the party are joined by the sinister Dr Myra Lark (Jenny Runacre), who insists they all tell a horror story to win a prize in her black briefcase – or rather, what she calls a sur-prize! We begin with a creepy story by Christopher Fowler about two people in Russia trapped in a lift and then segue neatly into Stephen Gallagher’s tale of a ventriloquist’s dummy that offers Jamie Birkett in particular a chance to shine under a very effective mask designed by Dan Martin. Lynda Rucker’s ‘#goddess’ is an update on the vampire legend, a terrific two-hander for Claire Louse Amias and Birkett, and was probably my favourite single item – funny, scary and clever, with a perfect payoff. Rob Shearman’s Shakespearean tale of Banquo’s ghost ‘Dead Scotsmen’ is almost as good, and gives Jonathan Rigby his best role as a retired actor who seems to be haunting an ex-colleague without knowing it. In the second half we have a short item about a haunted house and conclude with Kim Newman’s funny and clever ‘Frankenstein on Ice,’ an elaborate take on the story of Frankenstein and the film adaptations of it, which asks us to accept that it was all true and consider what might happen to the ‘modern Prometheus’ in the age of big pharma. It sees the cast pull out all the stops and provides Grace Ker with a great role as the nearly silent but very expressive Gala.
The small cast of seven actors does a great job in a variety of guises, while the production manages to make the most of the small venue (the theatre seats about 100 people). This is both a valentine to the Amicus style and the Ealing classic Dead of Night that inspired them all, but very much brought up-to-date – it isn’t especially gory but the language is very strong, so be warned! I had a great evening and hope you will too.