When a show comes with a 15+ rating and a ‘people with a nervous disposition might want to, well, not come’ warning – you know you’re in for a scary sort of night at the theatre.
But just how hair-raising is cult theatre hit Ghost Stories? After 10 years of West End and touring appearances, the show has taken on infamous levels of notoriety for the terror inflicted on the audience.
Indeed so keen are for writers Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman to preserve the shocks and scares that reviewers are urged by the pair in advance of seeing the show to divulge as little as possible, to help ensure future theatregoers have a genuinely spoiler-free experience.
It’s absolutely true that the less you know about Ghost Stories going into the auditorium the better, so that’s a request this reviewer is certainly happy to abide by. So what can be said about the show – that at just 80mins is swiftly paced by directors Dyson, Nyman and Sean Holmes (and no interval to break the tension or have a quick drink to steady the nerves!)
It’s not spoiling anything to say the plot centres around parapsychologist Professor Goodman (played with sheepish, likeable charm by Joshua Higgott – all crumpled cords and gentle jokes), who is delivering a lecture on the paranormal.
Throughout the course of the lecture he tells three tales of the unexpected, that were told to him by three very different people: Paul Hawkyard’s forthright night watchman, Gus Gordon’s nervy student and Richard Sutton’s obnoxious city trader. All three claim to have had a close encounter with supernatural forces…or have they?
The four central performances are utterly believable and delivered with total commitment. Throughout the production all four actors are on the stage solo, having to command the attention of the huge Lyric Theatre audience.
Aiding the cast in weaving their tales is some phenomenal stagecraft. From a waft of hospital grade bleach to the momentary blinding beam of a torch or headlamp – the design of Ghost Stories is worth the ticket price alone. Jon Bausor’s shifting set design, combines with James Farncombe’s atmospheric lighting, Nick Manning’s unnerving sound and Scott Penrose’s seamless special effects to create spine-tingling moments of true terror and really terrific theatre.
All this, added with an ingenious story and first-rate acting, really does make Ghost Stories a uniquely thrilling theatrical experience. Is it as scary as the hype would have you believe? That’s probably down to how easily you jump out of your seat (my count – at least five!) or how much you’re willing to suspend your disbelief and just go with it.
But hype and scariness aside, there’s no disputing that this is first-rate, very clever theatre that achieves its aim of delivering horror on stage – and yes, you possibly will look under your bed, or leave the light on, or triple check the front door is locked after you’ve got home. Highly recommended.