The Signalman (Old Red Lion)

Paragon Theatre Collective have come up with a different take on the Christmas ghost story with The Signalman, taking the Dickens short story and opening it out into a taut and chilling fifty minute show.

In Martin Malcolm’s wordy adaptation, the titular signalman (Tim Larkfield) still performs the piece as a monologue – but alongside us watching in the pub theatre, there is also an observer on stage, Joe the crossing sweeper from Bleak House.

Joe (Helen Baranova) has just one line. Otherwise she watches, waits, and reacts: a difficult role that she performs well. She scrubs out footprints that have faded, bloodstains that have washed away, and woodchips which remain around to add an additional spooky crunch underfoot now and then.

Joe and the Signalman
Joe and the Signalman

In this bleak and black production, the signalman is traumatised by the sights and sounds seen when catastrophe hits his insignificant little railway. Here he spends most time in solitude, dwelling on what is beyond the yawning dark mouth of the tunnel, his isolation punctuated now and then by a ghostly bell.

Sam Raffal’s direction and Mike Leopold’s design makes the most of the Old Red Lion’s stage, with a hint of the day to day work of the railyard in the careful but sparse set dressing. A moment of levity and an old music hall tune is quickly dispelled by the discovery of a beautiful doll with a sad story.

I found the use of lighting (by Tyrian Purple) and sound particularly effective in balancing the signalman’s mounting paranoia and hysteria, with Samuel J Welch especially adept in crafting a sense of passing trains and suggestive sounds of mystery.

I can see why the decision was made to include the additional character, but for me it didn’t quite come off. The piece has a lot of power for one actor alone on a stage with the shadows and sounds that eventually provoke him to the inevitable ending. Still, the final scenes have a touch of Scrooge’s future and the fadeout is particularly effective.

Photos by Figurative Face Grabber.

LouReviews received a complimentary ticket to see The Signalman.