Photography by Sean Ebsworth Barnes
Supernatural romance comes to the London stage this week when Ghost: The Musical - adapted from the Oscar®-winning Paramount Pictures film Ghost - starts its West End run at the Piccadilly Theatre. As the show will no doubt put you in the mood for a spot of ghost-hunting, here are some handy hints for what to watch out for when you go.
Staff at the Piccadilly Theatre have reportedly been spooked by strange noises, and by objects moving around and doors opening and closing of their own accord. These happenings have been linked with the spirit of an actress named Evelyn Laye (1900-1996).
Laye starred in the theatre's first-ever production when it opened in April 1928, a staging of the Jerome Kern musical Blue Eyes. She went on to enjoy a long and successful career appearing in Hollywood films as well as on stage both on Broadway and in the West End. She was still performing on stage in her nineties but passed away on 17 February 1996 at the age of 95.
When a photograph of Laye was taken down from its accustomed spot on a wall in the theatre's offices a few years ago, the poltergeist-like activity intensified. For a short while afterwards objects were flung around rather than simply moved and doors would slam with a violence that terrified staff. Fortunately, somebody made the connection between the increased activity and the photograph's removal: the picture was replaced and things calmed down once more.
Travelling to and from the show
If you don't experience anything odd at the theatre then don't despair because you have other opportunities. Travelling to or from Piccadilly Theatre is usually easiest by "Tube" (London's underground rail system), and the nearest Tube station is Piccadilly Circus, served by both the Piccadilly and the Bakerloo lines. For ghost-hunting purposes I recommend the latter because with luck you'll encounter the legendary "Bakerloo Line Passenger".
As your train rushes through the dark tunnels beneath London, remember to glance occasionally towards your reflection in the window. There have been reports of passengers seeing the reflection of a person sitting next to them - only to realise with a shock - that the seat beside them was empty. This apparently happens most of all on northbound trains, especially in the vicinity of Elephant and Castle and Baker Street stations, although the phenomenon is not wholly restricted to the Bakerloo Line and the Piccadilly line in the vicinity of Earl's Court station is also said to be another "hot spot" for this unsettling experience.
Piccadilly Circus station itself may be haunted, according to none other than that pioneer of electronic music, Gary Numan. In interviews for the Independent newspaper in early 2008, and later for Fortean Times magazine, Numan described a strange incident that happened to him in about 1975 when he was 17 years old.
As he and a friend got off the train at Piccadilly Circus the two of them were chatting about the band they were going to put together and automatically following the stream of passengers out of the station. Directly in front of them was a man wearing a hat and a long grey coat. When they reached the top of the escalator Numan and his friend followed the man around a corner to their left but after a few steps they came up against a solid wall.
"It looked as if the corridor we were in had been sealed countless years before," recalled Numan. "No sign of the man. We both checked with each other that we had been following the man and then realised that all the other passengers had gone. We ran as fast as we could out of the station."
Time for refreshments
No trip to the theatre is complete without a drink before or after (or ideally before and after) the show. Luckily a nearby pub is said to house another ghost to keep alert for on your night out.
The John Snow pub on Broadwick Street in Soho is named after a doctor who saved countless lives. Over 600 people died during an epidemic of cholera in 1854 and Snow identified the source of the outbreak as the water pump opposite the pub in Broad Street (as Broadwick Street was then known). His technique of mapping incidences of disease to reveal the centre of an outbreak is regarded as founding the science of epidemiology.
Members of staff, at the pub named in his honour, have reportedly sensed an invisible presence at times when the building is closed to the public. During opening hours customers have caught sight of an indistinct figure in the shadowy corners of the bar, his red-rimmed eyes staring at nobody knows what, with a look of anguished horror etched on his face. Some speculate that this is the ghost of a victim of the 1854 epidemic. Mind you, there have been nights when the description could easily have applied to me.
Ghost: The Musical begins its West End run at the Piccadilly Theatre in Denman Street, London on 24 June 2011, with booking open for performances until 28 January 2012. Tickets are available via the official website.
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