By Helen Rose

Victorian spooky melodrama came to Ilminster Warehouse in the form of Hugh Janes’ The Haunting, a stage adaptation based on several of Charles Dickens’ ghost stories. 

In a dusty, candlelit library young antiquarian book dealer David Filde has been invited by the owner, Lord Gray, to evaluate and sell his late father’s library. 

Soon, however, a woman’s screams and pathetic pleas for help are heard, doors bang, lightning flashes, the death owl screeches and the atmosphere becomes heavy with sinister portent as the ethereal form of a young girl in torn wedding clothes appears.

Lighting designer Brian Perkins only slightly enhanced the natural candlelight on stage for the night scenes thus creating small pools of golden light on an otherwise crepuscular, baleful scene which disappeared into the dark shadows. 

Dave Goodall’s set – book-lined library, fireplace and old leather armchair – became, in the half light of night, and with books suddenly falling off shelves, a place of menace.

Lord Gray appeared at first aloof to and ignorant of the apparitions visible to Chris Williamson’s young, nervous Filde, but gradually the men began to unite in an attempt to unearth the reason behind the haunting of the isolated old manor. 

Williamson’s keen, eager young dealer from London at first fizzed with energy and enthusiasm at the task of cataloguing the books and Goodall’s superior Gray was dismissive and curt, until he too saw and felt the ominous signs of ghostly happenings. 

Goodall and Williamson formed an accomplished pairing of characters and the subtle shifts in their relationship were well crafted and performed.

Philip Wells’ direction created tension and mystery in a play whose ending only added to the sense of unfinished business. 

This was a pleasantly spine-tingling evening’s entertainment, excellently performed and atmospherically staged.