A refreshing and distinctive piece of original theatre

Terri Dwyer and Mark Homer in Wilkie Collins The Ghosts Touch
Terri Dwyer and Mark Homer in Wilkie Collins The Ghosts Touch

The touch of a ghost: how would it feel? Would it be real and physical, or a figment of the mind?

At the Devonshire Park Theatre this week, John Goodrum’s adaptation of The Ghost’s Touch lifts a wispy, elusive notion from the pages of Wilkie Collins’ 1895 novella, and grippingly gives it shape.

How enterprising and refreshing, to see a new theatrical project.

Not a standard thriller, doing the rounds one more time, or a tired comedy dusted down yet again, but a fresh take on ghost stories.

The Victorians had a fascination with ghost stories, not all of great literary worth.

Cheap periodicals fed the public appetite, and new media like photography blurred the lines between image and reality.

Not until, say, Henry James and The Turn of the Screw – which post-dates this novella – did the genre really develop the psychological dimension. But The Ghost’s Touch does ask the question – is it all in the mind?

And who is the ghost?

In a cast of two, the options ought to be limited, but this story is nowhere near so simple. It’s like clutching at a wisp of steam, or more aptly a snatch of fog, dissolving in your hand. Not that I’d tell you anyway, but even by the end of the performance, I was no more certain than anyone else.

The play is written as a two-hander, which always makes special demands on the actors and occasionally on the audience. But, with five other characters played as pre-recorded disembodied voices, the story does have a certain dimension and depth. The two actors, Mark Homer and Terri Dwyer, command the stage and maintain real intensity.

Mark Homer is Stephen Rayburn, the – possibly – bereaved father sitting pensively on a park bench while his little daughter plays and darts between the trees, only to encounter a mysterious lady, who may or may not be an illusion. He rather doggedly tracks her down to discover that she is actually Mrs Zant, a – possibly – bereaved widow, with a story that seems to entwine with his own.

Stephen that the story revolves, and he has huge chunks of dialogue – sometimes monologue – to deliver. Some of it is no more than narrative of the story, which tries the patience a bit in Act One, but there are startling developments after the interval, and Mark Homer’s performance is impressive as we begin to see into his mind and his soul. Mrs Zant (Terri Dwyer) has fewer lines but a lovely range of emotions, from the brooding to the passionate to the hystrionic.

Director John Goodrum is thankfully light on cheap effects and artificial thrills, preferring to tease out the puzzling plot and enhance the mystery with subtle sound and lighting – kudos here to Duncan Hands, David Gilbrook and Sarah Wynne Kordas for their sensitive creative input.

The stage is left deliberately spare: a dapple of lighting here and a swaying drape there.

The Ghost’s Touch is a different and distinctive piece of theatre, almost an oddity.

But yes, it works.

By Kevin Anderson