WriterBy Steve Higgins
Did Comedian Rhod Gilbert Find Any Ghosts At A Haunted Theatre In Wales?
I watch and review ghost hunting shows on a weekly basis, but comedian Rhod Gilberts exploration of the genre was easily the best paranormal show I've seen in a long time.
Admittedly I'm a bit late to the table with this one, but the BBC's magical iPlayer makes the unmissable, unmissable - even four years after the episode of 'Rhod Gilbert's Work Experience' first aired on BBC One Wales.
In the series the stand up attempts various jobs, many of which take him around his native Wales, although some take him further afield. Now in its ninth series, Rhod has tried his hand at being a bin man, a hairdresser, a zoo keeper, a scout leader, and many more varied careers.
However in 2016, Rhod switched his cameras to night vision and set out to learn how to investigate the supernatural. Rhod, who admitted to being a skeptic at the start of the episode, spent some time with Darran and Leanne Pole from the now-defunct Cwmbran-based paranormal events company, Beyond The Grave, to see if they could convince him that ghosts really exist.
At the end of his time with the team, Rhod's challenge was to host his own paranormal evening for members of the public.
A paranormal show with a dash of humour was such a refreshing change, and surprisingly the comedy didn't detract from the task at hand - finding ghosts.
When Rhod first met Darran, Leanne and the team in the haunted offices of the Abergavenny Chronicle, he came across as a little bemused by their activities. He initially commented, "Leanne was under the table talking to no one, and her team were measuring nothing with things."
At this point I didn't think Rhod was going to take ghost hunting very seriously, but he got stuck in on his first investigation and eventually started calling out to any spooks residing in the back attic of the Chronicle building. One of the team shared a great bit of advice to help him get over the awkwardness of, as Rhod put it, talking to no one. The expert ghost hunter said, "think of somebody in your family who's passed over, and how you would speak to them if you met them now."
Later in the episode, after a quick lesson on ghost hunting gadgets, including the famous K-II EMF meter, Rhod reviewed some of the team's previously captured evidence in the form of an EVP, or electronic voice phenomenon. That's a disembodied voice, believed to be the voice of a spirit, captured in an audio recording.
He popped on a pair of headphones and listened intently to the sounded recorded on a previous investigation at Woodchester Mansion in Gloucestershire. Upon hearing the sound, a grin spread across his face. This time it wasn't bemusement, Rhod actually seemed quite impressed by what he easily recognised as an eerie voice saying "leave".
We then saw what happened when Rhod followed the Beyond The Grave team to investigate two haunting cases at private homes across Cardiff. The first at the old station master's cottage and the second in a normal-looking terraced house where Valisa felt she was being stalked by a poltergeist. She tells Rhod that on one occasion the entity tried to push her down the stairs.
Valisa's story seemed to spook Rhod, he told her "there's no way I'm staying in your house," and after leaving admitted "I think the fact that I'm so terrified by it and the fact that I refuse to spend the night here when offered, suggests to me - on some level at least - I do believe in this stuff."
To try to get him over his fear of being alone in the dark in a haunted location, Darran and Leanne took Rhod over the bridge into England to visit another paranormal hotspot, this time it was the dark and sinister Redcliffe Caves in the heart of Bristol.
Here Rhod was forced to hold his first ever lone vigil in complete darkness, admitting that he was feeling tense and nervous.
Leanne encouraged Rhod to call out to a French spirit they'd made contact with during a previous investigation in the man-made caves. So, he called out, "François, êtes-vous ici?" Which roughly translates as "are you here?" To Rhod's surprise, no sooner had he asked the question, a torch placed nearby lit up.
This was an experiment set up by Darran and Leanne. It involves unscrewing the tops of the torch so the contacts are barely touching, and the thought is that this allows spirits to turn the lights on or off in response to the questions you ask... and it seemed like Rhod did get a meaningful response.
During his time alone in the dark he experienced the same thing happened several more times, as well as some loud unexplained sounds. Was this proof of the paranormal, or was there a rational explanation for the torches turning on? Rhod said, "the torches weren't turning on every time, but the whole time I'd been down there, they didn't come on once without me asking."
Before leaving the caves he admitted, "it's weird, despite the fact I don't really believe, I'm totally heightened, totally on edge." However, once free of the oppressive confines of the caves, Rhod's skeptic outlooked seemed unshaken and he looked forward to hosting his public event. He said, "I'm going into the event knowing what to do, knowing how to get ourselves all psyched up, and knowing how to call the spirits and how to monitor them - I'm just still not believing in them."
The event itself took place at the 150-year-old Borough Theatre in Abergavenny. Before the guests arrived, Rhod had a chance to look around the building himself, this time with his new ghost-hunting sidekick, his dog Rosie. Rhod says, "apparently sometimes dogs can be useful because they can have different instincts and they can sense things that we can't."
As is often the case with real paranormal investigators, Rhod and Rosie headed straight for the basement to explore the many vaulted rooms under the theatre, most of which seemed as normal as any other dark and dusty room, but one of the rooms in particular Rosie refused to enter.
The room was also the first place where his K-II started to flash to indicate the presence of electromagnetic energy, something that investigators think might be associated with hauntings. Of course, Rhod took his guests back to this potential paranormal hotspot later in the evening and was surprised to find that some of the guests confirmed the spooky vibe in the room.
After hearing a strange moan during a Ouija board session, Rhod and his guests experienced some seemingly intelligent responses using the same torch experiment as earlier, but was he a full-blown believer by the time he left the theatre at 3am?
Rhod summed up his night by saying, "it was what you make of it. Believers don't need any evidence, for cynics no evidence is enough." Rhod said he lies somewhere in between.
The episode was a great watch, even for someone who's not familiar with Rhod's stand up or previous work. Someone should really sign Rhod up and send him around to meet more paranormal teams across the UK. While it's nice to have a familiar and consistent team in a ghost hunting show, it was a refreshing change to see a grass-routes team featured and have some of their unique techniques and evidence showcased on television. I'm sure there's plenty of other teams across the country with fascinating stories to tell.
If you missed Rhod's adventures into the paranormal, you can watch all previous episodes of 'Rhod Gilbert's Work Experience' on iPlayer now, including his time as a paranormal investigator.
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