By Francesco Dimitri:
On a miserable winter night I travelled all the way from my cosy home in Greenwich to an old chapel in Cambridge to listen to Richard Spaul tell ghost stories. It turned out to be the best thing I could do with my time.
The chapel was simply set: a few rows of chairs facing a lonely colleague was pretty much all. The chapel itself – haunting, haunted – did not need any embellishment. I sat down, feeling like a boy sitting at a fireplace, waiting for something to happen.
Mr Spaul happened.
He entered the chapel, he eased himself into the lonely chair, and without further ado, he started in on his stories. Just as there was no embellishment in the chapel, there was no embellishment in his act: only words, beautifully spoken, and beautifully sung.
I went there expecting to be unsettled, but I wasn’t. Or, to put it better, I was unsettled in a way, but deep down I felt something much stranger and more unexpected.
I felt a sense of comfort.
After a lifetime spent reading ghost stories, Richard Spaul made me realise that ghost stories are not about being scared. They are about comfort, as much as a soft woollen blanket, or a good dumpling in a stew.
We could say that is because the meanest ghost is still better than the alternative, the terrifying certainty that death is the end – and there would be some truth to that.
But there is a more interesting reason. I realised that night that ghost stories are meant to be told. In person. No ghost story is as vibrant on page as it is when voiced. To really get a ghost story we need to huddle together and listen.
Ghost stories bring us together: this is what Richard Spaul’s show does.
In these troubled times, there is no higher praise.
By Willie Sugg:
Do you believe in ghosts? The small, almost claustrophobic Cambridge’s Leper Chapel – set exactly the right tone – with its whitewashed walls and, overlooking the performer, Richard Spaul’s right shoulder, a half smiling half scowling gargoyle.
The opening song “Gloomy Sunday”, described as “The Hungarian Suicide Song”, sung in a Billie Holiday style somewhere between a croon and a wail made no bones about the intended mood – there was something sinister afoot.
So to Edith Wharton’s “Miss Mary Pask” a story of alarm, self-doubt and only partial reassurance. Both centrepiece stories stayed amazingly loyal to the originals but distinct voices and phrasing delivered each character, lifelike, face to face with the audience. Tension rose and fell and rose again but at the core of both stories was that timeless question of the existence of the supernatural. By the end of Elizabeth Bowen’s “Pink May” we were still uncertain and the gargoyle was still laughing.
Perhaps the most effectively sinister aspect of the evening was the humour, liable to jump out at any moment – “Roll Out The Barrel” as black comedy was a real treat. We were sent home provoked by a haunting, humourous and human entertainment.
Ghost Stories, is performed by Richard Spaul, Saturday 1st July at 20.00 at the The Leper Chapel, Newmarket Road, Cambridge CB4 1DH | Map
Tickets £12 (£10 concessions) available in advance from WeGotTickets and from 7.30pm at the venue.