Growing up the horror stories I encountered came from books and movies. I’ve already talked about my fondness for Goosebumps on this blog. And I’ve shared some thoughts on movies. But what about horror in the theatre? Producing scares in the theatre is a much more difficult task. Events unspool before you in real time. No edits. No fades. No special effects. Well, that’s not exactly true. The theatre has a whole new bag of tricks to offer the creative writer and director but examples are hard to find.
The Woman in Black, Susan Hill’s ghost story, has been showing at the Fortune Theatre in London for years and bills itself as ‘the most terrifying live theatre experience in the world.’ But if you’ve been brought up on horror movies you’ll find it’s more of a slow burn than a red hot fright. Which is why I was interested to see the revival of Ghost Stories at the Arts Theatre. Ghost Stories, written by Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson, comes with a warning: ‘Contains moments of extreme shock and tension.’ It’s an invitation no horror fan can resist but could it possibly live up to expectations?
The Ghost Stories website promises to thrill. ‘You haven’t seen horror until you’ve seen it live. Are you brave enough to book.’ I was. I did. And here I am sitting in the stalls of the Arts Theatre. Creepy ambient sounds fill the void, police tape hangs across the balcony and it’s dark. Very dark. Suddenly there’s a scream and the performance begins.
Professor Goodman (Paul Kemp) enters. He’s a Professor of Parapsychology and a natural skeptic of all things paranormal. He addresses us and begins a lecture on ghost stories. Why we love them. How they began. Why they frighten us. Photographs and video of the seemingly inexplicable are paraded before our eyes as evidence. They form an eerie foundation for what is to come, unsettling our minds and disturbing our thoughts.
Professor Goodman tells us that in all his investigations there have been only three that have been truly puzzling. This is where this scary anthology of ghost stories really starts.
Each story is a play. In the first we are introduced to Tony Matthews (Philip Whitchurch) a night security guard who comes across a spooky warehouse container… It’s here we discover just how terrifying a theatre play can be. I will not spoil what happens but I guarantee you will be glued to your seat, trapped really, with nowhere to go and praying that you survive whatever happens. Ghost Stories does deliver on its promise; it is incredibly tense and terrifying.
The next investigation follows young Simon (Chris Levens), a man lost in the woods. Whilst awaiting the AA, as his car no longer works, he’s terrorised by an unknown entity.
The staging of both these stories is superb. The set and sound design, the choreography, the lighting. The backstage crew deserve our applause. And yes there are even special effects.
Lastly, and by far the most troubling, comes businessman Mike Priddle’s (Gary Shelford) story. A malevolent spirit lurks in the nursery of the new family home. It’s a poltergeist story with a twist. Prepare to hide your eyes.
Ghost Stories is a special show that brings the art of the ghost story to life. It creates a vivid and frightening visual experience which for once is not just limited to film and television. The stories are well told. It can be shocking, really putting the frighteners on whilst making you jump out of your seat. It provides a whole new and innovative approach to telling horror stories, complete with nasties, in the theatre.
It also brought me back to one classic ghost story anthology that I really love, the 1945 movie Dead of Night. In fact Professor Goodman even shows a poster of the movie in his lecture. I think this is a thank you to the writers of that famous ghostly anthology. Fans of Dead of Night will recognise a moment in Ghost Stories that is pivotal to the narrative and smile.
Casting is strong which in turn emphasises the brilliant script along with the fantastic stage, lighting and special effects design.
If, like me, you have a taste for great horror and ghost stories, then place yourself in the front row where you can quench your thirst and catch Ghost Stories before it disappears!
More information can be found here:
And don’t forget to pick up a very cool programme full of horror movie trivia and quizzes!