Ghost Light

Conceived by Hope Dickson Leach, Jackie Wylie and Philip Howard
Director and screenwriter: Hope Dickson Leach
A National Theatre of Scotland film in association with Selkie Productions
Commissioned by Edinburgh International Festival
Available online until Aug. 28
Running time: 30 minutes
Cast: Afton Moran, James McArdle, Siobhan Redmond, Thierry Mabonga, Anna Russell-Martin, Louise Charity, Kiruna Stamell, Mark Pringle, Hannah Donaldson, Taqi Nazeer, Emilie Patry, Adam Kashmiry, Hannah Lavery, Gail Watson, Natalie Macdonald, Richard Conlon, Matthew Duckett, Dylan Read


A theatre never goes completely dark, even in lockdown: a single light bulb, known as a ghost light, carries on glowing like a sanctuary lamp.  Its practical function is one of safety, so anyone entering the theatre can navigate what would otherwise be total darkness.  In these trying times for the performing arts, it has also become a symbol of hope and it provides the title of the National Theatre of Scotland’s gritty, angry, wistful, yearning contribution to this year’s tributes to the cancelled Edinburgh arts festival.

The pain is greatest for the artists.  For an audience, Ghost Light is another instance of the unexpected joys of our reduced times.  We feel closer to performers on film and addressing the camera than if we were watching them from the back of the stalls, surrounded by coughing and whispering.  The decision to set the action in the rarely-seen backstage rather than onstage adds to the sense of intimacy and insider knowledge.  Even an anthology-approach doesn’t make us feel cheated as utterly natural links and some new material create the coherence of a single artistic whole.  The extracts from previous performances come across as a series of personal stories, united by shared passion as they are delivered by players ranging from the ice cream seller to the leading role.

We begin with Afton Moran as a Peter Pan who is edgy and modern and yet believes in a Tinkerbell synonymous with the magic of theatre and merged with the ghost light that leads us deeper into the wings for all the other action.

For those missing the accents that accompany an August visit to Edinburgh, we are treated to the muscular Scottishness of James McArdle’s James I and the softer, lyrical tones of an almost puck-like Dylan Read, who rounds off the action by mopping the stage beneath the ghost light.

Then, as the credits go up, we hear the sound we have so missed of a murmuring audience, gathering for all the future performances we’re dreaming of.

Barbara Lewis © 2020.