RUMOUR has it the ghost of Senor Rino Pepi returns to his box at Darlington’s Civic Theatre every time he hears the strains of The Dying Swan, the signature ballet of Anna Pavlova.

The creepy tale is just one of many responsible for a new breed of after-dark customers at the much-loved Edwardian theatre.

After curtain-down, house manager Peter Tate bids goodbye to theatre-lovers and flings open the doors to ghost hunters.

In recent years, lovers of the paranormal have been signing up in droves to spend the night at the theatre, hoping to spot one of its numerous ghosts.

The most sighted spectre is former managing director Senor Pepi, who died hours before world-famous ballerina Anna Pavlova took to the stage in November 1927.

His spirit is said to linger in his box, while Victorian child Arabelle prefers to stick to dressing room 12 and tragic stagehand Jimbo revisits the spot backstage where he died, tangled in ropes.

Sitting in the darkened theatre at 2am on a Sunday morning, listening to The Dying Swan echo through the empty stalls, it’s easy to imagine a ghostly Pepi applauding from the shadows.

Sadly, his spirit fails to materialise during a ghost hunt hosted by Simply Ghost Nights last month.

Organiser Stuart Dawson assures the novice paranormal investigators this is not Most Haunted and we are unlikely to see scenes from the Exorcist re-enacted.

Instead, the evening is spent listening intently for the tiniest sound of supernatural activity while trying out equipment including Ouija boards and night-vision goggles and reacting to every creak with borderline hysteria.

It’s a scene that has become familiar to house manager of 18 years, Peter Tate.

"There have always been ghost stories here but over the past 12 years, there’s been a major interest and we get a lot of groups coming," he said.

“The theatre is 107 next month and it has seen so many emotions, laughter, joy and sadness – I think the building records it all.”

Reassuringly, he adds: “There’s nothing malevolent here and I’ve been here long enough for them not to bother me.

“One night I was here by myself and the curtain wouldn’t stop flapping until I said out loud that I wanted to go home and it just stopped – but even if I saw Pepi standing there, I wouldn’t be scared.

“Every night before I lock up, I tell them goodnight.”