The Ghost Train (play)

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The Ghost Train is a theatre mystery thriller, written in 1923 by the English actor and playwright Arnold Ridley. It depicts a group of travellers stranded at a remote railway station, reacting with various degrees of credulity to the station master's warning of death to anyone who sets eyes on the ghostly train that haunts the line.

The play ran for over a year in its original London performance, and has been frequently revived since.

The popular British fairground ride in which people riding a train around a darkened building are scared by various spooky mannekins, noises, etc., was named after the play; see Dark ride.


The play was first performed at the Eltinge Theatre.[1] Ridley was inspired to write it after becoming stranded overnight at Mangotsfield railway station in Bristol, a now disused station on the Midland Railway main line. The play took him only a week to complete. It played to packed houses at St Martin's Theatre from November 1925[2] to March 1927.[2]

Original cast[edit]

  • Saul Hodgkin – Caleb Porter
  • Richard Winthrop – G.H. Mulcaster
  • Elsie – Edith Saville
  • Charles Murdoch – Basil Howes
  • Peggy Murdoch – Edna Davies
  • Miss Bourne – Gladys ffoliott
  • Teddy Deakin – Frederick T. Cooper
  • Julia Price – Mary Clare
  • Herbert Price – Neville Brook
  • John Stirling – Vincent Holman
  • Jackson – Walter Pemberton
  • Smith – Wilfred Langley[3]

Changes to the cast during the run included Sydney Fairbrother (from June 1926) as Miss Bourne,[4] succeeded in the role by Connie Ediss in November 1926.[5]

(Ridley himself played Saul Hodgkin, the station master, in several productions over many years. He told The Guardian in 1976 that when he first played the part he had to make up carefully to look old enough, but latterly "I had a job to make myself look young enough").[6]


The plot revolves around a party of passengers (including a newlywed couple, an estranged couple, a self-indulgent young dandy and an elderly spinster with a parrot) who find themselves stranded in the waiting room of an isolated station on a stormy night. The station master tries to get them to leave citing the local legend of a ghost train that dooms all who see it to death. It is revealed later in the plot that the train is in fact smuggling arms and the story has been concocted to frighten away strangers.

The play used elaborate special effects to simulate a train running through the station, such as garden-rollers running over wooden laths, thunder sheets, etc. Reviewing the premiere in The Manchester Guardian, Ivor Brown wrote, "the gentleman in charge of 'Noises off' becomes at times the protagonist ... he can make a noise so like a train that he might impose on the station master of a terminus; meanwhile, he can throw in a hurricane, as it were, with the other hand."[7]

Film and broadcast adaptations[edit]

Possibly the first film to be loosely based on the play's central premise is the American silent The Phantom Express (1925), although there is no acknowledgement of this in that production's credits.

The first credited filmed version was a German-British co-production the silent Ghost Train in 1927.

The next film, starring comedian Jack Hulbert, was The Ghost Train (1931), only five reels of picture and two reels of soundtrack of which now survive.

The Phantom Express (1932) made in Hollywood the next year bears close similarity to the play's theme, but it is unacknowledged in its credits.

In 1937 another version was produced The Ghost Train, starring Clifford Benn, John Counsell, and Hugh Dempster.

Oh, Mr Porter! (1937) starring Will Hay is loosely based on the plot of the play.[8]

On 28 December 1937 the BBC broadcast a forty-minute presentation with John Counsell, Joan Lawson, Don Gemmell, Alex McCringle, Clifford Benn, Arthur Young, Daphne Riggs and Laura Smithson.[9] The Times said of the broadcast version of the play, "Once more it was very effective, the wind-machine working overtime from the start, doors opening spontaneously as on the best-ordered stages, bells tinkling ominously ... and an excellent train flying madly by beyond the waiting-room wiindows."[10]

In 1939 a filmed version was produced in the Netherlands, De Spooktrein.

The story was adapted for propaganda purposes during World War II in 1941 and remade as The Ghost Train, starring Arthur Askey as Tommy Gander and Richard Murdoch as Teddy Deakin.

A German TV-movie Der Geisterzug has been produced in 1957.

Another film was made in Denmark entitled Spogelsestoget - Ghost Train International (1976).

A radio version of The Ghost Train, adapted by Shaun McKenna, directed by Marion Nancarrow and starring Adam Godley as Teddy Deakin, has been broadcast on BBC Radio 7 in 2008, 2009, 2010 and on BBC Radio 4 Extra in 2011 and most recently on 3 January 2015. The cast also included Christopher Wright as Richard Winthrop, Tracy-Ann Oberman as Elsie Winthrop, David Brooks as Charles Murdoch, Allison Pettit as Peggy Murdoch, Anne Beach as Miss Bourne, John Turner as Saul Hodgkin, Emily Joyce as Julia Price, Hugh Dickson as Price, Gerard McDermott as Sterling and Brian Parr as Jackson.[11]

An audio version of the play was recorded by Fantom Films at Oxygen Rooms, Birmingham in 2010 and directed/produced by Dexter O'Neill. The cast included James McNicholas as Teddy Deakin, Katy Manning as Miss Bourne, Luke Harrison as Charles Murdoch, Laura James as Peggy Murdoch, Michael Linsey as Richard Winthrop, Minna Pang as Elsie Winthrop, Julia Burchell as Julia Price, Ian Brooker as Herbert Price, Ian Fairbairn as Saul Hodgkin and Sean Connolly as John Sterling.


"The Ghost Train," a chamber opera by based on the play, debuted in September 2012 at the Carolina Chamber Music Festival in New Bern, North Carolina, USA. Scored for six singers and an instrumental ensemble, the opera is designed to be performed in and around abandoned railway buildings and will receive a performance in the roundhouse of the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore, Maryland, USA in February 2016.


  1. ^ French's Standard Drama
  2. ^ a b "The Theatres", The Times, 28 February 1927, p. 10
  3. ^ "St. Martin's Theatre", The Times, 25 November 1925, p. 14
  4. ^ "The Theatres", The Times, 3 June 1926, p. 14
  5. ^ "The Theatres", The Times, 28 October 1926, p. 10
  6. ^ Dixon, Stephen. "Pte Godfrey's private world", The Guardian, 10 January 1976, p. 9
  7. ^ Brown, Ivor. "The Ghost Train", The Manchester Guardian, 24 November 1925, p. 14
  8. ^ Fuller, Graham. "Mystery Train", Sight and Sound, Volume 18, no 1 (January 2008), pp. 36–40
  9. ^ "Broadcasting", The Times, 28 December 1937, p. 19
  10. ^ "Televised Drama", The Times, 29 December 1937, p. 8
  11. ^ Pick of the Day", The Sunday Times, 16 October 2011, p. 59

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