So it's my last theatre trip of the year, and a seasonal one to a Christmas ghost story, Michael Punter's Darker Shores. The production got the wrong kind of publicity as a couple of days before previews started its lead, Mark Gatiss, had to drop out due to a family illness, and his replacement Tom Goodman-Hill had only about two days' worth of rehearsal before having to go in front of an audience. Obviously he's now been in the role for a month or so and has settled into it, but even so it's impressive how you'd never know there'd been any problem with the production.
In 1875, Professor Stokes (Goodman-Hill) visits the medium Tom Beauregard (Julian Rhind-Tutt with a not-exactly-convincing Virginia accent) to ask for help investigating The Sea House, where he's been staying for a few days and experiencing mysterious apparitions. They do so with the help of the housekeeper and maid (Pamela Miles and Vinette Robinson) who may (of course) be more connected to the ghost than they at first appear. It's very much in the classic tradition of the Victorian ghost story, and Punter nicely balances some very funny moments with some suitable-for-all-the-family levels of spookiness. Paul Farnsworth's set design, all staircases, swooping curtains and concealed trapdoors, massively helps with the atmosphere, and director Anthony Clark manages to get some chills out of a talented cast, but Edward Lewis' sound design proves that sound is often the most effective way to get scares, with some nicely designed bumps in the night. There's also some very clever stage illusions and special effects, and although it's unlikely to make anyone sleep with the light on it adds up to an entertaining show that makes you wonder why there aren't more spooky stories on stage when they can be done as effectively as this.
Darker Shores by Michael Punter is booking until the 12th of January at the Hampstead Theatre.