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Ghost Stories

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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After the curtain falls on Ghost Stories, a voice comes over the PA to ask the audience to keep the show’s secrets to themselves. Judging by the air of anticipation in the stalls before it all begins, it looks like theatregoers have been doing as they’re told. Unfortunately, that initial sense of nervous excitement, rather than culminating in catharsis, fizzles out into a feeling of mild disappointment.

The framing device created by the professor of parapsychology’s lecture is a neat way of avoiding a clichéd beginning to this tale of the paranormal. Co-writer Andy Nyman’s self-satisfied professor draws us in engagingly, and there are a couple of genuinely interesting points made about the nature of our belief in the supernatural. The characters whose stories he recounts possess just enough depth to keep us with them, and the shows succeeds in providing several good scares.

But while making people jump is not a difficult task, creating proper fear is, and it requires a more subtle, psychology-focused approach than that offered by this show. Ghost Stories is not totally without this subtlety, but too often, silliness takes over and the potential for real terror is lost. It's a fun show, and the experience of being part of a gasping, squealing crowd in a West End theatre is an entertaining one, but after all the hype, it's hard not feel underwhelmed.

­- Jo Caird

NOTE: The following THREE STAR review dates from 2 March 2010, and this production's premiere at the Lyric Hammersmith

It’s a very good idea to get horror back into the theatre, and the experiments lately undertaken at the Southwark Theatre in Adam Meggido’s Horror Festivals are picked up in this weird evening of ghosts and ghoulies.

A professor of parapsychology asks the audience if they believe in ghosts or have ever had a supernatural experience. He then draws us into the detail of a wedding photograph where a strange phenomenon lurks. Or does it?

Three case histories are laid out. A market-trader-cum-night-watchman loses his daughter, Marnie (the Hitchcockian reference is deliberate), and finds her in a pile of mannequins.

Is she the same comatose victim of a terrible car accident, or the apparition that shocks the audience awake some minutes later… a third narrative strand develops with a ghastly businessman in Queens Park, with a smell of ammonia, a dead wife and a deformed child.

There are links between what happens, but they are not more satisfying than the occasional, rather arbitrary, horror moments of light and dark. But these ensure a macabre theatricality that the producers intend.

People scream (I didn’t). It’s a good set up, attracting a horror movie crowd who may not even get the clever references perpetrated by League of Gentleman writer Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman, who also plays the professor, and their co-director, Lyric boss, Sean Holmes.

I was asked not to give away the ending, so I won’t; but, you know what? I couldn’t if I tried. There’s a dead child and a secret. There are some funny sound effects. There’s a body and a coffin. And a curtain falls.

In terms of the play, the strands are irritatingly unresolved. There are sterling performances by David Cardy as the mildewed mensch and Ryan Gage as the new hope, and Nicholas Burns makes up the foursome of frighteners.

Design by Jon Bausor and lighting by James Farncombe ensure some atmospheric surprises, but the show’s most interesting in its aim to hook a new audience. If it does that, good luck to it. But it’s too silly in its effects, and sub-Jacobean in the writing, to amount to a genuine breakthrough.


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