Is McNaghten still treading the boards?

Half Hanged McNaghten ( actor Connor Barr) almost had a reprieve when the smoke alarms led to an evacuation of the Playhouse
Half Hanged McNaghten ( actor Connor Barr) almost had a reprieve when the smoke alarms led to an evacuation of the Playhouse
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Staff at Derry’s Playhouse could be forgiven for thinking the spirit of Half Hanged McNaghten is haunting the theatre after a series of spooky goings on.

The Artillery Street theatre was evacuated on Friday night when smoke alarms went off as a packed house were enjoying Stan McGowan’s ‘The Wood of the Crows’ based on the infamous eighteenth century tale of tragic heiress Mary Anne Knox and her rapparee lover John McNaghten.

Playhouse manager Niall McCaughan yesterday told the ‘Journal’ the alarms went off as the play reached its dramatic climax in which McNaghten is sentenced for the killing of his young lover.

“In the main, the audience took it very well, some were laughing that McNaghten had been saved by the bell - well for fifteen minutes at least.”

Mr McCaughan says dry ice used on stage triggered the alarms and subsequent fifteen minute evacuation.

He says the alarms have never went off during his 11 years at the theatre and says the weekend was characterised by a series of out of the ordinary events.

Mr McCaughan says at almost exactly the same time on Saturday evening the theatres empty lift started to go up and down on its own before opening right beside the stage.

Then on Sunday night playwright Brian Hasson, whose play ‘Changes’, is to be performed at the Derry theatre this Friday, is said to have heard footsteps on the back stairs - despite being the only person in the building at the time.

“It certainly has been a weekend of spooky events. Brian says he’ll never be in the building on his own again,” Mr McCaughan says.

It is not the first time ‘The Wood of the Crows’ or The Playhouse - said to be haunted by the ghost of an old nun - have been the focus of spooky goings on.

Earlier this month actor Bill Waters, who played Mary Anne’s father Andrew Knox, told the ‘Journal’ of the “creepy shadow “ found across a picture of him taken at Prehen House, formerly the Knox home.

“We took a tour of the room and quietly I asked Knox for his help. In Prehen House they have some sketches of the Knoxes but only one portrait - of Andrew.

“One of the girls took a picture of me looking at the portrait and a shadow fell over it. I couldn’t wait to get out of there,” he said.