Funtington Players board The Ghost Train

Funtington Players: The Ghost Train
Funtington Players: The Ghost Train

A stage classic from the man best known as Dad’s Army’s Private Godfrey is the next challenge for the Funtington Players.

Friends and co-directors Heather Birchenough and Sue Wilkins are masterminding a revival of The Ghost Train by Arnold Ridley at West Ashling village hall from April 10-14.

Heather said: “It is a very, very funny play, but it is also a quite a thriller. I have been in it before, for the Tangmere Players, when I played Miss Bourne who is quite dotty, a very eccentric spinster.

“But now I am co-directing it with Sue. It is the first time either of us have directed for the Funtington Players, but I think the main thing for us has been to choose a very good cast, which we have, and then to get them working together to develop their characters under our direction. It is a very intimate script with a lot of things happening and a lot of nuances, so it is important that they really get their characters. It was written by Arnold Ridley who was Godfrey in Dad’s Army who was also a very accomplished director. The whole script is very well written.”

Part of the challenge is getting the sounds right – and indeed the lights… all part of creating just the right kind of terror in this spooky tale.

“Also, it has been very clear that you just can’t mess around with the script. We have taken particular care to make sure that the cast all speak very crisply just as they would have done in the 1920s. You really can’t try to update anything. It is very much a part of its time.”

The action takes place in the waiting room of a small branch railway line in Cornwall where a group of travellers have missed their connection thanks to one of their number, Teddy, who pulled the communication chord and stopped the train when he lost his hat. Also in the group are a couple who have just got married; Richard and Elsie, a business couple who want to separate: and Miss Bourne “who is pretty eccentric.”

“They are stuck at the station, but the stationmaster wants them gone. In an effort to scare them away, he tells them about the ghost train that is going to pass through. 20 years ago that night a train carrying party-goers went through an open swing bridge and hurtled into the river, killing six people outright. The ghost train is coming, and the stationmaster tells the travellers that anyone who sees it will die…”

Heather is loving the task of directing: “You get to study the script in such depth. There is a lot of analysis of the whole play. If you are acting, you are just analysing your own part, but if you are directing, you are having to be thinking of the whole thing, and also the back-stage people have been wonderful.

“I think my approach has been quite flexible from the beginning, trying to get everyone involved and discussing it with them. Having the two of us working together and co-directing has been great. It has meant that we have been able to play ideas off each other. Sue and I have known each other for 37 years. It has been great.”

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