The Signalman – September 2009


By John Goodrum, based on the short story by Charles Dickens

Directed by John Goodrum

Venue: Connaught Theatre

Date: Tuesday 15th September 2009

I vaguely remember reading a ghost story involving a signalman many years ago, but I was basically ignorant of what would happen tonight. As it was I found myself drawn in to the stories told by the two characters, the signalman and his visitor, and the denouement gave both of us a shiver.

The staging was very good, I thought. The arch of a railway tunnel was centre back, with a red light high beside it on the left. High rocky walls enclosed the cutting on either side, while the signalman’s hut was front right. The lighting emphasised each location as the action shifted between outside and inside. The signalman’s hut had few furnishings, but the telegraph signal machine was prominent.

I very much liked the way they showed a train coming through the tunnel. A white light shining from within the tunnel indicated the train, and there was be some smoke and steam coming out as well. Then the lighting flickered over the set like the light from passing carriage windows as the train rushed past, together with the appropriate sound effects. It was an impressive way to deal with it, and certainly got my imagination fully engaged. I realised after a few of these that the signalman was looking up at the train because he was at ground level, not on a platform.

The opening scene was well done, creating just the right sense of chill, as only the visitor was talking. The signalman’s reaction, apparently frozen with fear, got my nerves tingling and the spooky sound of the visitor’s calls from on high at the start also contributed to this. I gather this tour had only started about a week ago which explains why the signalman was having difficulty remembering his lines, and didn’t always deliver the ones he could remember as clearly as I would have liked, but we got the gist and given that the signalman was meant to be a man in the grip of a strong emotional quandary the mixing up of a few words was entirely in keeping. The visitor was perfectly clear, and with the excellent staging this made for an enjoyable and slightly scary evening.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at

One comment on “The Signalman – September 2009

  1. […] hadn’t re-read my notes from 2009 before we saw this version of the story, but I was still pretty confident from an early stage that […]

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