In the 80-minute piece, billed as a “truly terrifying theatrical experience”, Nyman himself appears, presenting a lecture about the paranormal which segues into the spooky stories of some of the subjects he’s interviewed in the course of his work.
Nyman’s stage acting credits include Moonlight and Magnolias, but he’s best known for co-creating and directing Derren Brown’s TV and stage shows. He’s joined in the Ghost Stories company by Nicholas Burns, David Cardy and Ryan Gage.
The production carries a warning: “Please be advised that Ghost Stories contains moments of extreme shock and tension. The show is unsuitable for anyone under the age of 16. We strongly advise those of a nervous disposition to think very seriously before attending.”
Commissioned by west London’s Lyric Hammersmith, whose artistic director Sean Holmes is the production’s third director, Ghost Stories opened in Liverpool in February before moving in March to the Lyric for a sell-out season. Its West End press performance is this Wednesday 14 July 2010 at the Duke of York’s, where it’s been previewing since 25 June and is currently booking through to 7 November.
Thursday’s Q&A was chaired by Whatsonstage.com editorial director Terri Paddock. Edited highlights follow. For additional information and photos, visit our Outings Blog.
On how the production came to be
Andy Nyman: I hadn’t done theatre for ten years. The first play that enticed me back was called Moonlight and Magnolias. That was directed by Sean Holmes who is the third director of this show tonight, including myself and Jeremy Dyson and that’s what reinvigorated my excitement in the theatre. Sean said to me after that, “Whatever you want to do next, we’ll do it together”.
So Jeremy and I looked at a few shows that had been really, really successful and one of those shows is The Woman in Black, which is phenomenal. And, having such an appetite for horror, it just struck me as bizarre that there hasn’t been anything else. So I called Jeremy and said “I’ve got this idea - The Vagina Monologues but with ghost stories.”
Then we constructed some rules around that idea: it had to be fast and very entertaining and we had to have some big moments for the audience as well as it being crowd-pleasing. We said that to Sean and he said, “Brilliant, alright, we’ll commission it and these are the dates we’ll do it.” And that was a masterstroke. Once we put dates in the diary, then we knew we couldn’t wriggle out of it.
On how Jeremy Dyson & Andy Nyman came to work together
Nyman: Jeremy and I met when we were 15 at a Jewish summer camp. We fell in love with each other over filthy jokes and mutual adoration of horror and that kind of kept us going forever. Over the years, we kept saying “wouldn’t it be great to do something together” and then we kept phoning each other and talking about what we would do. But, of course, when we made plans, they fell through: we both have kids, we both have busy lives and it gets in the way of you working together. But, in the back of my mind, that had always been there.
On writing Ghost Stories
Jeremy Dyson: We booked two weeks in July to start talking about the structure at least. Then Andy rang me up a few weeks before saying, “actually I can only do one week”, and that was fine because I could only do a week as well! When we got together at the beginning of July, we had nothing. So Andy arranged a dinner with his good friend, Richard Wiseman, who’s a real-life professor of parapsychology. And out of that meal, pretty much, the whole play came. Just from us asking questions and making up stories, we were almost there.
Nyman: On that first night before we saw Richard, we went to my study, took all the pictures off one wall and got a post-it pack and we just said, “what’s scary? Let’s just write any moments in theatre and in films that are scary.” We made all these notes and put them on the wall. We knew that it had to feel like Tales from the Crypt or In the Dead of Night, which I think is the best of all of the horror films. Then it was seeing Richard when the real stuff came. And we added details and then the next thing we did was we mimed scary scenes! It’s never really felt like anything other than just a joyous experience.
On keeping the secrets of Ghost Stories
Nicholas Burns: When we auditioned, we only got about ten pages each! We just had to come in and chat and Andy kind of explained it without giving too much away. I suppose he didn’t want to get out what the story was about if we didn’t get the part. I didn’t see the full script until we were actually cast. It was an interesting experience.
David Cardy: It was a take on trust. Can you hold a torch in both hands job?
Ryan Gage: We had a small amount of the script and you could tell that it was brilliantly written. Obviously, I’ve never seen my scene being performed so I’ve only ever read it! It just jumped off the page when I read it. In the same ways that you guys jump when you see it!
Nyman: One of the reasons we didn’t send the script out was because we didn’t want to share our ideas and secrets. We butt heads with the PR people all the time about this. When the BBC wanted to cover us this week, they said they could only do it if we showed a clip from the show and we refused. We think it’s exciting for an audience not knowing what they are coming to see. We love that 60,000 people have seen Ghost Stories now and people don’t talk about it.