Nick Bromley has been a West End company manager for the past half-century, but also happens to be a member of the Ghost Club and the Society for Physical Research. So he is perfectly poised to write Stage Ghosts and Haunted Theatres, a guided supernatural tour that offers an all-access pass to the phantoms past and present of London theatreland. Bromley sets out his vision for the book (with its foreword by onetime Rocky Horror Show legend Richard O'Brien) below.
Empty theatres may not be as empty as you think, at least through May 17 when lockdown lifts and playhouses can open their doors once more.
Theatrical clichés are legion but the one most commonly used in reports during lockdown is the reference to that good old standby when times are tough and theatres dark, namely the ghost light. It's a simple piece of equipment, a mere player, but now its hour has come. In fact, that hour has stretched a bit of late, from days to weeks and now we're talking months.
There it stands in the centre of the stage of every type of theatre in the world, a lonely, humble lightbulb teetering on top of its dusty fixture, swaying in the draught from darkened orchestra pits, casting its rays defiantly to chase the dark and evil shadows of disease and desperation away from our deserted sets and bare back walls. It's the beacon of hope, the torch of continuity, indeed the very lighthouse of our profession and throughout this crisis it's been the one constant that's been plugged in, shining out its message to our world.
This theatrical mainstay is a hero, our hero, and has been doing better than its bit of late, unless of course the bulb has blown or the electric bill gone unpaid. Now some of my more acid-tongued mates say I'm a bit of a theatrical cliché myself, so I thought I'd try to emulate the ghost light and do something positive to lift the spirits. I racked my brain of course, because there wasn't much anyone could actually do, unless of course one worked at Porton Down and that doesn't have a theatre - well, only an operating one that never gets reviewed.
And then, eureka, it came to me: I'd write a book about the only people who had seen those ghost lights during lockdown and not just read about or written of them. I would celebrate theatre ghosts and tell about the stages thay haunt. And what a choice of players! I got out my calculator and did my sums. If I added up each and every cast of Les Mis, plus those of Phantom, Cats and Spider Man -Turn Off the Dark, why, they still couldn't outnumber my A-Z of wraiths!
There was an amazing alphabet of spectres to choose from and a multitude of venues to describe. There had to be enough actor ghosts going about their business throughout the British Isles to fill Drury Lane ten times over. But my research made me realise how unfair it was to focus exclusively on performing phantoms from the past. I needed to broaden my outlook ever wider. Add crew and firemen to the list, dressers and stage management too, and then, what about the audiences? I mean if individual shows die a death, how many punters have keeled over in the stalls because of them? Their spectral ranks grew like Deliveroo riders, and the result was alarming. A mountain of ghosts hovered above my desk, each with their own frightful manifestation.
And so, I devised a plot, a structured show, and sent it out on tour. My ghosts would certainly appear where they appear, but this time in a strictly limited selection of venues of my choice. What is more, their entrances and exits would be told by living witnesses, or at least, by just the slightly dead. Some weren't happy with so tyrannical a censorship: pencils broke, printers jammed, poltergeists poured coffee on my copy. Was I bothered? Not a jot, for if this time I've missed the ones above and many more, I've given a splendid shower of spectres a new lease of afterlife. The end result is an illustrated paperback covering over fifty venues and a multitude of terrors, seen, felt, heard and even smelt. I hope you enjoy it.
Stage Ghosts and Haunted Theatres is available from lnpbooks.co.uk at a preview price for Broadway World readers