The Signalman

Is The Signalman scary then? “It is more unsettling, like an earache that won’t go away. but it does get under your skin – it has just the right amount of spookiness for a really good ghost story,” Creation Theatre Company‘s CEO Lucy Askew explains with a tinkle in her eye.

It was a big risk opening a site specific gothic horror in a new location in Oxford. Post-Covid audiences are still uncertain. Who knew it it would come off.

But since opening The Signalman at The Wesley Memorial Church, the Dickens thriller is such a runaway success, it’s been extended until the end of March.

“the signalman does get under your skin. It has just the right amount of spookiness for a really good ghost story”

“It means the world to be back with a show in a spectacular location, getting great feedback,” Lucy adds.

“We had no idea if demand for this type of show was still there, and with the rising cost of living would Oxford still spend money on theatre? We have been delighted and heartened to see that thriving audience for this type of show remains,” she adds.

“But then Oxford audiences like bold, inventive theatre that embeds itself in the city which is exactly what The Signalman does.”

Anna Tolputt in The Signalman

So what’s the attraction? The semi-autobiographical Dickensian ghost story has been adapted and directed by Jonathan Holloway (whose productions for Creation include 1984, Brave New World and Don Quixote) and its ‘deliciously disconcerting audience experience’ is going down extremely well.


“We wanted to go back to doing something site specific and a bit more intense” Creation actor Anna Tolputt explains “and Dickens seemed to fit the bill.”

The Signalman ghost story is set in a railway tunnel cutting and based on Dickens’ own experience of a terrible train crash in which he rescued passengers from the wreckage before heading back to find his most recent and yet unpublished novel. The incident haunted him for the rest of his life which explains The Signalman’s ghostly bent.

The Signalman

With echoes of A Christmas Carol, it tells the tale of a railway signalman who receives phantom warnings of danger when his bell rings. Each warning is followed by the appearance of the spectre, and then by a terrible accident.

“It’s a good old fashioned ghost story,” Jonathan Holloway says. “which sits rather well in this Victorian Weslyan chapel right in the middle of town.

The Signalman

As Jonathan was involved in Radio 4’s production of The Signalman on Christmas Day, he was certainly the right man for the job, and carries that forward in the play: “The trick is to create images in people’s minds,” he says.

“You are relying on the audience’s imagination to transport them via some darned good story-telling. And that’s exactly what we set out to do. So fasten your seatbelts and come along for the ride.”

The Signalman runs at Wesley Memorial Church until March 31, Wednesday to Saturday. Book here