Stormy night brings tale of terror
IT'S the dead of night. There's an isolated crumbling mansion high on the moors and a storm is gathering. A high-pitched scream is followed by the sound of fingernails scraping on glass.
A classic lose-your-popcorn moment and one of many to be enjoyed in The Haunting, a theatrical mash-up of Dickens' ghost stories, coming to the Queen's this month.
"Audiences are all absolutely loving it," said James Roache who plays young book dealer, David Filde, in the show. "They are all reacting in the right places with lots of shocks and ohs and ahs. It's all the things we are wanting to hear, with no booing, which is good."
Of late, it's been the big screen exploring all things supernatural, with films like The Woman In Black becoming massive box office hits. Yet this show promises to bring the screamfest just that little bit closer to a live audience.
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"There's a lot of tension in it, a bit like a classic horror film," said James. "The director has been amazing at building suspense in a lot of scenes. There's an amazing score that's so eerie and very atmospheric. You are always on the edge of your seat and you never know when something might appear. It's one of those."
On a scale one to 10, how spooky would James say it is?
"I would say 12," he laughed. "Don't come alone."
The story centres on David Filde, who is employed to catalogue an impressive library of rare and antiquated books at an ancient crumbling mansion. A series of strange and unexplained events, though, conspire to keep him from his work.
"It's actually adapted from three of Dickens' ghost stories so it's a hybrid," said James. "Hugh Janes wrote the adaptation and he's preserved the writing brilliantly. He's sewed it all together beautifully and it pays homage to the language and to Dickens himself. It's very unique and original but it is still Dickens, which is great."
Did any uninvited ghosts show up in rehearsals?
"No," laughed James. "Only the ones that are meant to be there, thank goodness. I think if I saw a couple of others that weren't meant to be there I would have probably been a bit scared. So far we haven't played in any haunted venues either."
James has starred in TV dramas such as ITV's Cold Blood, however his face is more familiar after a 20-episode story on Coronation Street where he played double dealing soup kitchen volunteer, James Cunningham. Strangely, in soapland, James played the grandson of Ken Barlow, a part held by his real-life father, William Roache for more than 50 years.
Will he ever go back to the Street to reprise the role as a deceitful do-gooder?
"No. I literally did it just for two months. I had such a great time and it was good fun and it was such a privilege to work with my father and brother for a bit. No, I've ticked that box now and had a great time but I'm moving on to other things."
James, who it could be said comes from an acting dynasty, has always wanted to tread the boards.
"I always feel separate from my family connections," he admitted.
"Obviously acting is in the blood and I've been inspired but it's something I've not even questioned. I've known it from day one."
The Haunting, he felt, was a good opportunity to show his versatility.
"I have been dying to do theatre and it came along at the perfect moment. I read it and it was really good fun, beautifully written and very gripping. I thought it was an absolute dream."
The journey to the edge of terror, he promises, will appeal to thriller and Dickens' fans alike.
"It's a fantastic night out. It's frightening to a great level and for anyone who is a fan of Dickens, it's a great homage as well."
The Haunting is at the Queen's Theatre, Barnstaple from Monday, September 17 to Saturday, September 22. Tickets: £16 to £23. Box office: 01271 324242 or visit www.north devontheatres.org.uk