The Signalman: Creation Theatre
Review: The Signalman, Creation Theatre, adapted by Jonathan Holloway and originally commissioned for BBC Radio 4, Wesley Memorial Church, 31 March 2023. Tickets from £25. Book here.
[Disclosure. I was a Creation Theatre trustee from early 2020 to early 2022. I received free tickets for the purposes of this review.]
The Signalman is the finest Creation Theatre production since before the pandemic. This production has all the hallmarks of Creation Theatre at its best; a classic text that has been beautifully, respectfully and cleverly adapted, an incredible venue and outstanding acting.
What a joy it was to see!
The Signalman was written by Charles Dickens and published at Christmas in 1866. It tells the story of a railway signalman, who works in a railway box at the entrance to a dark and isolated railway tunnel, cut deeply into a hill. The signalman begins to see apparitions, ghosts, and soon after each appearance, a terrible train accident occurs.
One of the staging areas of the production - with Anna Tolputt on the left as the signalman and Nicholas Osmond, as the visitor.
Jonathan Holloway’s adaptation was originally commissioned by BBC Radio 4, and was aired this past Christmas. Holloway has made a welcome return to Creation, directing his adaptation – and creating an extraordinarily eerie and unnerving ambience with his signature subtlety and restraint.
I took this photo just before the production - the signal box, filled with authentic props.
As always, Creation Theatre seeks out the most atmospheric venues, and the Wesley Memorial Church is such a fabulous venue – suitably Victorian, cold and gloomy. The staging, lighting and sound design are used to excellent effect – with props borrowed from the STEAM Museum of the Great Western Railway and the St Albans Signalbox Preservation Trust. These authentic props are placed in contemporarily minimal staging – all in the gothic surrounds of the Wesley Memorial Church.
I took this photo just before the production - the tunnel and railway track. During the production, the lights are dimmed and the setting and sound effects make this a very immersive production.
The acting is absolutely first rate – Anna Tolputt’s portrayal of the signalman was truly astounding – she inhabited the character so completely. From her very first line, I forgot that she is an actor, and found myself utterly immersed in her unnervingly accurate portrayal.
Anna Tolputt as the signalman.
It was wonderful to see a sell-out audience, after some very turbulent years for Creation Theatre – and given that Creation Theatre has extended the run of The Signalman until 31 March, there’s still time to buy your ticket.
This production is eerie, beautiful and immersive – it’s a must see.
Thank you Lucy Askew
After 15 years with Creation Theatre, chief executive, Lucy Askew is leaving Creation Theatre, and Oxford – for pastures new. Lucy has been at the helm not only of Creation Theatre’s artistic journey but an integral part of Oxford’s cultural life. Lucy has worked tirelessly, mostly behind the scenes, to put into practice what many theatre companies preach, but do little to practice.
During the pandemic, Lucy pivoted the company to becoming the foremost digital theatre specialist in the country, not only providing digital theatre at a time when all other theatres were shut, but providing work for freelance actors, producers, costume designers and many other theatre professionals – paying them what they would have earned pre-pandemic.
Lucy has worked hard to ensure that diversity of both audience and cast is a reality at Creation Theatre. Under her guidance, Creation Theatre has given away many hundreds of tickets to people who would otherwise not be able to afford the theatre. Lucy’s compassion and artistic integrity have been a huge asset to Oxford – and Oxford’s cultural life will be diminished without her. Quaere Living thanks her for her contribution and wishes her every success.
If you enjoyed reading this review, you may enjoy reading my other Creation Theatre reviews here.