On the BBC Radio 4 Podcast “Front Row” (episode link here) they talked a bit about the fascinating subject of theatre ghosts. Patrick Malahide described a weird and possibly supernatural encounter he had 25 years ago at the Bristol Old Vic while performing Garrick’s and Colman’s “The Clandestine Marriage“.
At that time I was personally in a very dark place. On this night, I froze. I mean not just dried, I actually was completely incapable of speech, and now I’m on stage, and I stare at the audience, and the audience stares back expectantly. So, you just think to yourself, “Well, this is it. This is the night I get found out. I’m not really an actor; I’ve just gotten away with it so far.”
In the middle of that existential terror, I felt a hand on my shoulder, and I turned, and I couldn’t see anybody, but I could clearly hear the voice of David Garrick. And he said to me very gently, he said “You are among friends.” And I turned back to the audience, and I looked at them again, and I thought ‘hmmmm’. “50,000, yes.” And I got this huge laugh because it had been the most daring pause ever. So what was that? Is that the survival instinct of a terrified actor, or is it the ghost of David Garrick casting a watchful and benevolent eye on a performance of a play which he himself had written 250 years ago.
According to Wikipedia, David Garrick was the proverbial renaissance man when it came to the theatre: “David Garrick (19 February 1717 – 20 January 1779) was an English actor, playwright, theatre manager and producer who influenced nearly all aspects of theatrical practice throughout the 18th century, and was a pupil and friend of Dr Samuel Johnson.” It is hardly surprising then that his ghost might take such a paternal interest as described above.
I’m also intrigued by Mr. Malahide’s description of his gentle, affable voice. David Garrick was noted for his “easy, natural manner” which fits well with Mr. Malahide’s genial description. I also notice on Wikipedia that some of Garrick’s critics did not care for his fondness of pauses. He must have been delighted with Mr. Malahide being well rewarded for his “daring pause”.
Dr. Aofie Monks, a theatre historian who has written about theatre hauntings, offered her opinion on why so many theatres are said to have ghosts. She speculates actors may be accessing their own acting traditions while also reacting to the terror and delight of being on stage. The stage, being a historically rich place, revolves around themes of repetition and remembrance which themselves are very spectral.
Mr. Malahide concludes
We continue to be our real selves on stage. Well, I do, certainly. But you are giving yourself up to a character in the moment, so that you are in a way working on two levels: The level of the character that you sort of give yourself up to in the moment, but you’re also extremely aware that an actor is off, they’re a bit late. What are we going to do now? So you are aware of levels of existence, I suppose. So what matter if there’s yet another level with a ghost there. Why not?
Why not, indeed. For the record, I personally do believe in ghosts and hauntings and feel that theatres are prime locations for such activity. I mean when you think about it, the idea of an actor who never wants to leave the stage is a pretty common image. I reckon the theatre set would be among the most likely to stick around after life keeping an eye on things.
It was lovely to hear of Patrick Malahide’s possibly supernatural experience in his own words. Patrick Malahide and ghosts just happen to be two of my favorite interests. Talk about being right up my alley.
Mr. Malahide has narrated several ghosts stories which have been recapped on this blog. And there are several more I would specifically love to hear him narrate. Listening to this podcast reminds me yet again why he is the perfect narrator. His delightfully raspy and adroit voice can effortlessly move from gentleness to blinding terror with such grace that you barely know it is happening as you are fully engrossed in an increasingly terrifying tale. I’d love to hear more horror and ghost stories, be they truth or fiction, as narrated by him.