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Dickens and a blend of classics

PUBLISHED: 16:48 16 September 2009 | UPDATED: 17:24 16 August 2010

FEARFUL: Mark Homer as the traveller in The Signalman.

FEARFUL: Mark Homer as the traveller in The Signalman.

RUMPUS Theatre Company s adaptation of Charles Dickens The Signalman faced a major challenge from the start - how to turn a short story

RUMPUS Theatre Company's adaptation of Charles Dickens' The Signalman faced a major challenge from the start - how to turn a short story into over an hour of compelling theatre, writes Mark Campbell.

The original tale has a sceptical traveller listening to a lonely old signalman recounting the story of an unearthly waving figure, a figure that appears to predict terrible disaster.

John Goodrum, who adapted, directed and designed the production, has made many new additions to the text.

In this expanded version, performed at the Greenwich Theatre recently, the signalman, Joseph Standcot, is an ex-alcoholic who had a previous job as a lighthouse keeper and caused his friends to perish one night because he forgot to sound the foghorn.

The traveller, Brightwell, has a bigger role in this version too; a woman whose death the ghost predicted turns out to be his first love Emily, casually abandoned by him after he falls in love with another woman.

The barely repressed guilt shared by both men suggests at first that the spectre may be more a psychological effect than a supernatural presence.

But the expanded ending with Michael Chance as a train driver, which sees twist piled onto twist, decisively refutes this Freudian interpretation.

Keith Drinkel played Standcot as a man shunned by society and left to go slowly mad in his isolated signal box.

Despite a few stumbled lines - and the script has more than its share of fiendish tongue twisters - he was believably paranoiac throughout.

Mark Homer made the traveller a well-adjusted rationalist until he suddenly discovered it was his former fiancée's death that the ghost foretold; then he goes to pieces with the shock of it. It was a wonderfully nuanced performance.

A clever blend of An Inspector Calls and The Woman in Black, I'm not wholly convinced by all the additions to Dickens' original text, but it certainly made for an evening of old-fashioned spooky fun.

l The next production at the Greenwich Theatre is Neil Duffold's musical play Dancing in my Dreams from September 17 - 19. Tickets: 020 8858 7755.

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