The extreme warnings* aboout Ghost Stories at the Lyric Hammersmith were such that Phil decided to go it alone. Aware that Andrew is of a very nervous disposition, the prospect of him jumping into Phil’s lap were enough to cause him moments of “extreme shock and tension”.
The truth is that the Whingers had tickets for Tuesday’s performance but Phil had to pull out due to a much more important engagement than theatre, but he slipped into the Saturday matinée leaving others to soothe Andrew’s nerves.
It would take quite a lot to scare the Phil in a theatre. The prospect of seeing the first act of Gone With the Wind The Musical again might, or being locked in the Cottesloe auditorium overnight, or having to endure the second act of Really Old, Like Forty Five. Or if Richard Jones was to be let loose on a classic musical again, that might send shudders down Phil’s spine.
They producers certainly cranked up the tension before the show, the house lights were off, strings of light bulbs flickering creating a crepuscular gloom, numbers were chalked on the auditorium’s walls and ambient sound all added to the real buzz in the audience.
Written by Jeremy Dyson (League of Gentlemen) and Andy Nyman (Derren Brown‘s collaborator and last seen by the Whingers playing David O. Selznick in Moonlight And Magnolias) and co-directed by them and the Lyric’s Artistic Director Sean Holmes, Ghost Stories has been created to try and scare the hell out of the audience.
The stories are set within a lecture about the supernatural delivered by Professor Philip Goodman (Nyman), illustrated with photographs and the recordings of interviews with three people who claim to have seen ghosts. The first is about a night watchman, the second about a young man driving late at night and the third is set in a haunted nursery. But that’s about as much as we dare reveal. An announcement at the end pleads “Not to reveal the secrets of Ghost Stories“.
It sets out to shock and make the audience jump as much as possible, the tension builds nicely in each tale as you’re not sure what to expect and the stories are played out on mainly dark sets so you’re never quite sure what might suddenly appear. The pay-offs are never quite as good as the fear of anticipation and while some of the audience do jump, there’s nothing quite like the famous moment in the stage production of Deathtrap that had the audience screaming in shock, and in Phil’s case his Maltesers shooting into the air.
There is one very clever effect (special effects by Scott Penrose who also did Paint Never Dries) which the Whingers had never experienced in a theatre before and creeps up on the audience at different times causing a ripple of giggles, but it would be unfair to reveal more. And there’s prescience in the lead up to the dénouement with its theme of bullying – perhaps Gordon Brown should pop in and see what might become of him. But ultimately GS is never quite as shocking as it sets out to be. Phil overheard two elderly ladies leaving the theatre saying,”I wanted to be really scared”. “Yes, so did I,” came the disappointed reply.
But it’s all good fun and plays out in an agreeable 80 minutes without an interval and the audience was enthusiastic.
Andrew writes: What a shame about the warning* because Ghost Stories just doesn’t do what it says on the tin. But it’s the tin that’s at fault not the creosote which is brilliant, imaginative, ingeniously staged, breathtakingly well designed (by Jon Bausor ) and playfully lit (by James Farncombe). I’d happily sit through this again. Wonderful. A shame they’ve over-hyped the marketing.
* The enticing warning states: 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.
This is the site referred to in the show and includes the photograph demonstrating pareidolia . If you’re intending to see Ghost Stories better not look.
Good to see that some effort has gone into the programme (£3) which includes a ghost story by Dyson, a Horror Quiz, Dyson’s Top Ten Ghost Stories, Nyman’s Top Ten Scary Movies and a feature by Nyman about a TV thriller Only A Scream Away that started his obsession with fear.