Review: The Haunting at New Vic Theatre – a hair-raising gothic ghost story

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There’s something universally enticing about a ghost story. Whether it’s campfire tales told by torchlight, TikTok videos while tucked up in bed or horror films that leave you looking over your shoulder as you leave the cinema – these ghastly anecdotes deliver a flood of adrenaline, goosebumps and spine chills that linger long after they’re told, yet people still can’t seem to get enough. So it was no surprise to me to see barely an empty seat in the house when I went to catch The Haunting at the New Vic Theatre this week.

Based on several original ghost stories by master storyteller and supernatural sceptic Charles Dickens, The Haunting, adapted by Hugh Janes, follows the story of David Filde as he visits an ancient manor house to organise the estate of the late owner, Lord Gray. As he begins his work, he is distracted by strange sounds and eerie apparitions and becomes convinced the house is haunted. 

Andrew Billington

From the moment you take your seat, the atmosphere in the room shifts. Fog creeps across the floor as David Filde flicks through a book from the many around him in the room. The lights are dim, dimmer than I’ve ever seen them at the New Vic, with a sense of foreboding in the air that could make you shiver. 

There’s a real intimacy to this production – the audience feel almost huddled around the stage, leaning in as Lord Gray, David Filde and, slightly later, Mary, make themselves known. The cast do a wonderful job of acting out this Victorian tale, with David Ahmad as Lord Gray, quietly sceptic, injecting much needed humour into the script. With every giggle of laughter, shoulders untighten and a breath you didn’t know you were holding is exhaled, but this air of relaxation is often short lived before the next wail, door slam or book tossed. 

Andrew Billington

Richard Leeming’s David Filde appears young, a little less experienced in his role as a book dealer than Gray had perhaps hoped for, but they strike up a convincing rapport on stage. David’s initial fear turns to determination as he begins to uncover the truth – a truth he has quietly hoped to find – with some predictable, and some less so twists in the storyline.

As for Mary, Jessica Hole brings a blend of vulnerability and intensity to her character, from the fast-paced and hair-raising jump scares, to her waltzing around the study in her bridal gown – a scene that is chilling and enchanting in equal measure.

This chilling ambiance is thanks in large part to Michael Holt’s impressive set design. Known for his work on The Woman in Black – which I caught in both 2019 and 2021 – Holt transformed the in-the-round stage into a hauntingly immersive environment. Hosted entirely in one room, the attention to detail has been meticulous, from the leaded windows to the stacks of books and antique furniture. 

Andrew Billington

The intricate details of the manor, combined with Daniella Beattie’s atmospheric lighting and Jamie Lu’s eerie sound design, provide a rather unsettling tone throughout the evening and are, perhaps, the most important element to the ghost story, working in tandem to heighten tensions and deliver the most effective frights throughout the evening.  

The supernatural elements, from eerie apparitions to tumbling logs, are choreographed and executed with perfect timing, creating moments of genuine fear that had audience members practically jumping out of their skin. But what is even more impressive is the fact that illusions like this are much harder to create in-the-round where they must be as impressive from every angle, but these challenges are expertly handled, by Illusionist Consultant, Dr. Will Houstoun, who has worked on 2:22 A Ghost Story and productions of A Christmas Carol. 

Andrew Billington

A ghost story may be a somewhat simple form of entertainment, but sometimes, that’s the best kind, and the stage production of The Haunting proves just that. The show takes the classic elements of a gothic ghost story and brings it to life with modern theatrical techniques and illusions to make for a truly haunting experience. Full of suspense and spine-tingling moments, it really is a testament to the skill of everyone involved, from the cast to the creative team.

If you like productions like The Woman In Black – or equally, films of a similar nature – then The Haunting, running until June 15, is a must-see. Buy your tickets here.

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