Ghost lights are those kept lit in a performing arts space when the actors and audiences have gone home and the space would be otherwise pitch-black. From a pragmatic standpoint, this practice started to keep anyone roaming about after dark from hurting themselves. From a superstitious one, ghost lights are supposedly useful for keeping the ghosts of a particular theatre happy. Every stage has held hundreds of stories. Surely a character or two has stuck around a little longer after the curtain call to pester the living, right?
Of course, not only theatres happen to be haunted. Sometimes the plays themselves feel that way, too. Mix the two together and you get Ghost Light, a charming and silly comedy from 2018 set for re-release in 2022. It’s been a long four years, during which most in-person productions shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic with which we’ll never quite be finished. Some venues kept their lights on as a promise to return, a ritual unbroken by punishing times. Ghost Light met with relatively positive reviews upon its initial release and will hopefully find a receptive audience on streaming. It’s funny, clever, and features a cast of recognizable performers simply having a good time with a story that lovingly pokes fun at their profession. What’s more, as a horror-comedy, it isn’t afraid to get suitably weird and grisly toward the conclusion.
The story follows a group of Shakespearean performers with a love for the material that makes up for their relative lack of talent. Alex (Cary Elwes) is an aged soap-opera actor eager to embrace a legitimate role as Macbeth. He is, by virtue of age and charisma, the leader of the group. Alex’s cheating wife, Liz (Shannyn Sossamon), has grown tired of his middle-aged inadequacies and found comfort in the arms of Thomas (Tom Riley), who plays Banquo in their little production. Knowing the story of Macbeth, do you kind of see where this is going?
Alex and company arrive at a small rural theater to stage their production and quickly find themselves in a mess of mysterious circumstances. While relationship intrigue simmers between Liz, Alex and Thomas, other members of the group start seeing ghosts and mysterious apparitions. A young backpacker, Juliet Miller (Danielle Campbell), accidentally arrives just in time to become one of the Witches on stage. It seems the theatre wants this production to be as accurate to the script as possible, even if it means a little possession is in order.
It’s not just a 1:1 replication of the famous play about ghosts, madness and murder, but the script by John Stimpson (who also directed) and Geoffrey Taylor makes sure the story starts as a silly lark and slowly allows the tropes of Shakespeare’s famous tragedy to overtake the neurotic troupe. Although Elwes steals the show, some other recognizable faces do great jobs in their parts. Roger Bart plays Henry, the director; Carol Kane plays Madeline, the production’s lone cast Witch who can’t quite differentiate between malevolent and hysterical; and Scott Adsit plays Archie, the stage manager whose exhaustion with big personalities and absurd demands mirrors his famous role as Pete Hornberger on the sitcom 30 Rock.
The cast is funny, the script is clever, and it all lovingly lampoons the culture of small-time theatre without losing track of its horror elements. Ghost Light isn’t a movie I expected to fall into, but it feels like one of those hidden films from a few years ago that deserves a bit more attention. I hope people find it.