What could be better than a good old-fashioned ghost story to add an extra chill to a cold and dark winter's night? Well, how about two good old-fashioned ghost stories?

That's just what the audience at the Theatre Royal in Windsor is treated to this week. Middle Ground Theatre Company is staging a double bill of supernatural stories and has chosen two classic examples of the genre, Charles Dickens' The Signalman and M R James' Oh, Whistle, And I'll Come To You, My Lad.

A talented cast, including the familiar face of Jack Shepherd (TV detective Wycliffe) switch from one play to the other with consumate ease and the production crew work wonders to transform the stage in the limited time offered by the interval.

Oh, Whistle is set on the windswept east coast of England in the autumn of 1907, where a Cambridge professor (Shepherd) is enjoying a short golfing holiday. Having been asked by a university colleague to take a quick look at an ancient burial ground, he discovers a mysterious artefact which will go on to transform his life in the most hideous of ways.

The production relies a great deal on pre-recorded visual projections to heighten the spine-tingling tension, a technique used so successfully by the theatre company when it staged Cadfael: The Virgin In The Ice at the same venue last year. But by no means is the success of this creepy tale solely reliant on hi-tech wizadry, with the cast and backstage team working together with expert timing to create the perfect atmosphere of foreboding. One particular moment has some in the audience shrieking with fear.

Another well-known face from the small screen, Terrence Hardiman, is perfect as the professor's golfing partner Colonel Wilson, and there is excellent support from the rest of the cast, which includes Emmerdale's Dicken Ashworth. The wind howls, the window panes rattle and the tension builds, perhaps a little too lengthily at one stage, when the professor is preparing for bed and there is an interminable wait for something horrible to happen. And when the curtain comes down there are plenty of questions left unanswered and not even enough clues for the audience to come to its own conclusion.

Perhaps that's how M R James - who, ironically, is buried less than half a mile from the theatre - wanted it to be.

The Signalman
The Signalman
 

The second play, The Signalman, is a far more satisfying piece of work. There is a longer-than-usual half hour interval between the two pieces but when the curtain rises it's obvious why the extra time is needed. From the sand dunes and coastal inn of the earlier play, the stage has been transformed in the most astonishing manner, to create a remote Victorian railway signalbox in a deep, dark cutting, adjacent to the ornate entrance of a tunnel.

The authenticity is remarkable and even the most pedantic of train enthusiasts would find little to fault in this recreation, which has been achieved with the assistance of the Didcot Railway Centre in Oxfordshire, one of the country's top restoration centres. Everything seems so realistic that when the distant sound of a steam train begins echoing from within the tunnel, there's a distinct feeling of wanting to get out of the way!

Jack Shepherd and Terrence Hardiman again take the lead roles, with the former cast as the troubled signalman and the latter as the holidaying walker who stumbles upon this remote corner of the railway system and becomes progressively more concerned for the welfare of his new-found friend and the hundreds of passengers who rely on his efficiency and professionalism.

The pair turn in perfect performances and, though the action relies less on visual terror and more on an ever-darkening narrative, the ending is impressively scary.

Ghost stories are as big a part of the British winter as pantomime and parties and this double bill of thrills, so expertly crafted by the cast and crew, is a perfect way to while away a January evening. Classic Ghosts is a the Theatre Royal, Windsor, until Saturday February 1. Contact the box office on  01753 853888 or www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk .