GHOST LIGHT: The Scottish Play & Superstitions

Ghost Light is a dark comedy that seems to poke fun at actors who take themselves too seriously while playing on a few theatrical superstitions. The first, you can’t say the name “Macbeth” in a theater due to the play being cursed, and the second, you should always leave a light burning in an empty theater (the ghost light). This comedy was particularly enjoyable due to the more well-known cast members: Cary ElwesCarol KaneRoger BartShannyn SossamonScott Adsit, and Steve Tom.

Some Were Familiar

The performances were a mixed bag of talent. Elwes plays a man clueless about his failing relationship who sounds an awful lot like the dads in the Midwestern neighborhood I grew up in and desires to be the best – dramatic – actor. He is funding the play and therefore gets to perform Macbeth. Sossamon is his younger partner who drinks gin to occupy her boredom and who seeks out the company of another man. She is Lady Macbeth in the play. Bart is the director who is barely holding this group of mildly talented actors together.

Carol Kane as one of the witches.

Carol Kane as one of the witches.

These three were believable in their roles. Elwes may be from Westminster but he could easily have been from Iowa. Bart as the consoling, mediating director whose hair always looked electrified felt natural and authentic. Sossamon did an excellent job navigating a dark “Lady Macbeth”, a sensual adulterer, a bored spouse, and someone trying-to-keep-it-together-when-she-feels-haunted. (Props to John Stimpson and Geoffrey Taylor for providing a female character with nuance and depth!)

Some Were Unfamiliar

Tom Riley is an actor I had not seen in a film before but that seems due to his starring in UK dramas (I tend to watch comedies from the UK). He plays Banquo in the play – an ally of Macbeth who Macbeth eventually turns against and has two men murder. Riley is believable as a vengeful individual – one who believes he is being slighted by not performing the lead role.

Danielle Campbell joins the play as one of the three witches. Her acting is something one would see on a CW show – and when reviewing her IMDB it makes sense: recent work is primarily television-style web programs (RunawaysTell Me a Story). This performance was the weak link in the chain but her lines weren’t numerous, so it balances out.


Aside from the play Macbeth, the two theater superstitions were imperative in the development of the plot. There is some excitement, disbelief, casual disregard, and hopeful spite in the characters’ views regarding the notion that one can’t say the name “Macbeth” in the theater. Actors must refer to the play as “The Scottish Play” in a theater or else they may bring about the curse.

Cary Elwes as Macbeth.

Cary Elwes as Macbeth.

There are various stories that are used to back up the claim that saying “Macbeth” in a theater is bad luck. One of these is that Shakespeare used real witches in the performances who cursed the play for real. Some examples that may be internet folly (or perhaps it’s true!) that include a fake dagger being replaced by a real dagger, a violent storm hitting the city on an opening night, that Lincoln read some passages from the play and was assassinated a week later, and more. These all seem to happen prior to the 20th century but, as the characters in the film would likely agree, “why push it?”.

The ghost light, though the name of the film, is less prominent in the development of the story but there are hints here and there that make one go “ahh, that’s why it’s named that”. This superstition is possibly based on the idea that every theater has a ghost – though it’s also possible that it’s merely a practical light to avoid accidents in the pitch-black darkness of the theater.

Ghost Light: Conclusion

Whether you’re an avid theatre-goer, an actor, or someone who enjoys dark comedies, there will be something enjoyable in Ghost Light. Perhaps it’s the jabs at actors who overcompensate in their performances or the Canadian accents (this seems to be set in a French-Canadian rural area though it was filmed in Massachusetts) or simply watching Elwes that makes this is an enjoyable film to watch.

This article originally appeared on Film Inquiry.