INTRIGUING and strangely beguiling, this dark and worrying adaptation of Dickens' ghost story, The Signalman, had last night's house entranced at Windsor's Theatre Royal, writes Paul Thomas.

Taken from a short story by our Victorian master of society and class differences, The Signalman, apparently came from events in his own life, a train tunnel crash of 1861 in which two trains collided just outside Brighton, killing 23 people and injuring 176 – the worst rail accident in Britain at that time.

It was also inspired by Dickens' own involvement in the Stapleford rail crash of 1865, when on returning on the boat train from Paris with his mistress, the actress Ellen Ternan and her mother, a bridge collapsed near Folkestone and seven carriages went over and into a brook beneath. Dickens himself was unhurt, but 10 were killed and 40 injured.

The effect on the writer was profound.

In this eerie adaptation by Rumpus Theatre, the railway signalman of the title tells the narrator of an apparition that has been haunting him.

Each spectral appearance precedes a tragic event on the railway on which the signalman works.

The signalman's work is at a signal box in a deep cutting near a tunnel entrance on a lonely stretch of the railway line, and he controls the movements of passing trains.

When there is danger, his fellow signalmen alert him by telegraph and alarms.

Three times, he receives phantom warnings of danger when his bell rings in a fashion that only he can hear. Each warning is followed by the appearance of the spectre, and then by a terrible accident.

He recounts this story to a young man who also has a hidden path and is directly involved with a tragedy on the line.

But who is the spectre?

This is a marvellous re-telling of an involving horror story with excellent special lighting and effects on the line on which the trains rampage directly toward the audience, whistles, smoke, steam and darkness enveloping the set and spilling out into the house.

Moody, malevolent and keenly written, the dialogue is moving and strangely familiar to us all.

It is the stuff of prescient nightmares to which we have all been party.

A superb set and a foreboding narrative from this largely two-hander makes for an exciting evening of dark drama.

In the first half the signalman, Joseph Standcot, played by John Goodrum tells his spooky story to a young man who gets to know him during a walk in the country.

In the second half the young man, Richard Brightwell, played by Chris Sheridan, tells his dark secret, but where will it all end?

Both men stand the drastic drama up in brilliant and dynamic way, while keeping the brooding menace lurking in the background, bringing to the boil the most awfully traumatic and horrific ending.

This is the stuff of true story-telling to frighten your socks off – a terrifying terrific night out.

Ditch the tellybox and make tracks to the Theatre Royal Windsor because the train comes to a halt tomorrow night (Wednesday). Don't crash out and forget this chance to see a real classic.

The Signalman, Theatre Royal Windsor until Wednesday, April 25. Box office: 01753 853888 or