Writers: Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman
Directors: Jeremy Dyson, Andy Nyman and Sean Holmes
In many ways, Ghost Stories is a truly theatrical piece and it is mostly old school in its delivery with just occasional modern technological enhancement. Unsurprisingly, the show is designed to achieve one thing, to give the audience the maximum fright possible. The writers, Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson, use every trick in the horror playbook to successfully bring this about.
Dyson will be familiar to many as one of the writers of The League of Gentlemen, a TV series with many horror film references. Nyman has regularly written for Derren Brown, which turns out to be a very useful experience if you want to scare your audience witless, as sleight of hand and illusion are very much central to the methodology of the show.
Nyman is on record as saying, “I phoned Jeremy and said, I have this idea to do a play that is The Vagina Monologues with ghost stories.” That is a very good definition of the show which is also very much the theatrical equivalent of the 1950s comic book series, Tales From the Crypt.
While Ghost Stories is scaring its audience, it goes to great lengths to reinforce the notion that unexplained ghostly happenings do indeed have rational explanations and that we just can’t see them. Quite a brave gambit in the face of the objective of the show.
The production works for four good reasons. Number one is the strong, cleverly structured script by two masterful writers who clearly love and understand the genre. You will spot references from some of your favourite movies in the cadre of short tales which ultimately become more than the sum of their parts.
The lighting is very daring for the theatre. As you might expect much is made of the use of darkness and shadow. At times, James Farncombe’s lighting is very low indeed and often contained within very confined areas. He uses some very subtle effects to create the required atmosphere, enhancing Scott Penrose’s simple but potent special effects.
The sound is nearly always present … except when suddenly it’s not. A low subsonic rumble is the mainstay of the atmosphere. It might be a little headache-inducing for some. Sharp staccato noises, spooky tunes and subtler foley form the soundtrack to our fear.
Finally, the execution by four skilled actors brings all these elements together into an engaging experience. Joshua Higgot as Professor Goodman is our host for the evening, which he presents in the form of a lecture. Higgot is clear and engaging even as his demeanour cleverly collapses before us. Paul Hawkyard plays a grizzled old watchman enduring a boring night at work. His delivery of a long monologue is riveting. Portraying a brash unpleasant yuppy with several grotesque tics is Richard Sutton. Some lovely interaction between him and the distraction of his mobile device is totally believable. It is remarkable to learn that this is Gus Gordon’s professional stage debut: he plays Simon who finds himself stranded out on a lonely road, a situation we can all connect with. He takes his character on a delightful psychological journey as he descends into terror.
The producers rightly ask the audience not to give away the secrets of the show, this is more than a publicity gimmick, this quality show deserves not to be spoiled for future audiences. There are so many things to like about it but primarily it is the rollercoaster of shocks and frights that we enjoy.
Runs until 8 February 2020