The Ambassadors Theatre, London.
By: Jeremy Dyson & Andy Nyman.
A Spoiler Free Review:
I’m not a big fan of theatre. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that I am an uncultured swine whose idea of a good night involves horror movies, pizza and rum. So what makes me a suitable candidate for a theatre critic is anyone’s guess.
I have, in the past suffered my share of theatre visits. Mamma Mia pushed me to the brink of self harming with a chainsaw. Les Miserables was the best sleep I have ever had and Starlight Express was gimmicky nonsense. I have, however, seen and enjoyed Phantom of the Opera and The Lord of the Rings.
I have also, sadly, endured my fair share of amateur dramatics. Amateur dramatics makes me want to vomit out my spine.
With my birthday coming around (Nov 13th for future reference, should anyone want to spoil me) my wife decided to take a gamble and purchase theatre tickets for a weekend in the big smoke. She remembered that I had enjoyed the film and having heard good things about the show, took a punt on Ghost Stories.
I was intrigued to see how the film translated to stage (and yes; I know it was a show first) so it piqued my interest. With that, off we trekked to our fair nation's capital in the hope of an evening of scary entertainment. And boy did we get it.
For those who don’t know, Ghost Stories is the brainchild of Jeremy Dyson (The League of gentlemen) and Andy Nyman (Severance, Dead Set). The basic premise is that of an anthology of spooky stories, compiled by a professor for his studies into the paranormal. Each individual story is a re-enactment of the tales he has researched. The stories tie up with a very satisfying conclusion that I have no desire to spoil for you here.
In fact, that’s the difficult part of this review. I can’t give anything away. After the curtain call at the end of the performance, the cast request that the audience keep Ghost Stories secrets, to ensure the surprise and enjoyment of future audiences and I’m not going to be the man to betray this request.
So what can I say about Ghost Stories? Well, I can tell you that it blew my mind. Now this isn’t exactly hard to do as anyone who knows me would happily tell you. I’m only one step up from a cat whose fascination with a ball of string, knows no bounds. That being said, Ghost Stories is pretty mind blowing.
London’s Ambassadors Theatre isn’t one of its biggest and consequently, it boasts only a small stage but it’s the way in which this stage is used that makes this show a cut above the rest. The inventiveness employed to take you from one set to another is incredible. We go from a university lecture to a warehouse to a car, stuck in the woods with ingenious transition. The lighting and sound effects give the impression that there is vastly more room up there than is really the case.
The real onstage hero of the piece is the clever practical special effects. Again I won’t go into too much detail as it would spoil the whole thing but when the ghosts appear, it’s pretty jolting. Even I jumped and I’m a battle hardened, desensitised, lifelong horror fan. The way in which they appear out of nowhere will leave you both startled and scratching your head trying to figure out how they pulled it off.
Like I mentioned earlier, I really enjoyed the movie, but the stage show is a whole different experience. I know people say how scary the theatre production of The Woman in Black is. I haven’t seen it but my wife has and she commented that Ghost Stories is the scarier of the two.
Unusually for the theatre, Ghost Stories runs for 80 minutes and doesn’t feature an intermission. I totally understand why they have done this. I think an intermission would have pulled you out of the experience and therefore ruined the effect. The 80 minute runtime flies by anyway and where usually I would be craving a cigarette or an alcoholic top up, I was left reeling that it was all over so soon. Usually while sat in a theatre I’m counting down the minutes before I can leave and try to forget that the whole torrid affair took place.
I’m a huge League of Gentlemen fan and Ghost Stories is very much a product of Dyson’s dark comedy style. I also enjoyed Andy Nyman in Severance and the excellent Big Brother/Zombie series, Dead Set. Although I will admit I’m not familiar with much of his other work.
The cast is minimal. Five actors if I remember correctly, but they are all fantastic in their roles and deliver the frights and the humour to great effect.
For anyone who loves their horror and fancies a night of doing something a little different, I thoroughly recommend Ghost Stories. It’s an incredibly enjoyable and rewarding, immersive experience that left me feeling exhilarated and after leaving the theatre we discussed what we had seen for hours.
I am now officially a theatre critic. Call me Captain Cultured.
Treat yourself to tickets by clicking the link below. You won't be disappointed: