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THEATRE REVIEW: Ghost Stories/ Liverpool Playhouse

Philip Key is sufficiently spooked, but by what we may never know

Published on February 11th 2010.

THEATRE REVIEW: Ghost Stories/ Liverpool Playhouse
SOME years ago, I was saying my goodbyes to people in the office as I set off to review the Albert Finney film Murder on the Orient Express, a film based on an Agatha Christie novel I had never read.

“Oh, yes,” said the women’s editor who HAD read it. She then proceeded to reveal to me the plot’s secret twists.

Things do happen eventually and they are quite unnerving when they do...At times, you could hear a pin drop in the theatre as the tales neared their climaxes

The film was good but it was ruined for me by that revelation. The finale, to which the film built, came as no surprise.

It’s a problem I face in writing about Ghost Stories, and one of which the two writers are only too aware.

They had attached a note to critics’ programmes asking them not to reveal too much of the plot or detail the show’s fright moments. An announcement at the end also asked the audience to keep the show’s secrets. I’ll do what I can.

The show – and it is more a show than a play – was written and directed by Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman, Dyson (pictured) one of the co-writers of the TV comedy-horror The League of Gentlemen and Nyman an actor as well as writer/director on illusionist Derren Brown’s television and stage shows. Both are horror buffs.

In Ghost Stories they set out to frighten theatre audiences.

It’s a fairly simple set up, a talk by a sceptic parapsychologist (a sort of ghost hunter) who tells a series of supposedly true tales of terror told to him by clients involved in them.

This Professor Goodman (played by Nyman) discusses why we would want to go to the theatre to hear horror stories (“you are playing a game with your fear”, he suggests) and then relates some.

As he does so, the tellers of the tales arrive to act out their stories.There’s a night-watchman in a deserted warehouse, a teenager driving home in the fog and a smart businessman with a pregnant wife with a nursery already prepared.

As with many horror stories, there is quite a build up before anything happens, indeed a lot of silence at times.

Things do happen eventually and they are quite unnerving when they do. There are some fright moments but it is the slow approaches to the payoffs that make them work. At times, you could

hear a pin drop in the theatre as the tales neared their climaxes.

Whether you get a fright depends on your own character. There were certainly some audience gasps and a few screams but I found the stories for the most part more intriguing than scary. They are the stuff of urban legends.

Intriguingly, the writers say that the show is a mixture of fact and fiction with some genuine websites mentioned in the evening and real people pictured in the occasional slide show.

It’s a very dark show – literally. The stage for much of the time is in near blackout with just the main characters picked out in flickering light.

There are several horror film references during the evening but if I mentioned them it would give some of the plots away. Let’s just say there has been a bit of borrowing from film classics.

Nyman plays the professor in a suitably academic fashion although as the show progresses his character does seem to be acting rather strangely.

David Cardy works well as a nervous and bored night-watchman, a difficult role as nothing much happens to him for quite a while. Ryan Gage gets to be frightened for longer as the car-driving teenager and Nicholas Burns is perfect as the hard-nosed businessman, forever playing with his mobile phone.

The stage sets designed by Jon Bausor are OK, but mention should be made of James Farncombe, Nick Manning and Scott Penrose, respectively responsible for lighting, sound and special effects, all contributing to the evening’s eerie mood.

Given the amount of gore in horror films, there is surprisingly none on show here. What Ghost Stories aims to do is create an atmosphere, creepy and disturbing. It does so with old-fashioned story-telling, underlined by the decision to have the tales told as part of a lecture.

It also runs for 80 minutes without an interval so that mood is never allowed to slacken.

The tales themselves may not always have the surprise element; you always expect something nasty is going to happen so when it does it’s hardly unexpected. It’s the something that happens that supplies the jolt.

Ghost Stories offers exactly what its title suggests. You won’t find anything too groundbreaking but you will enjoy a few shivers and possibly a nasty shock.

It also saves its best moments for the end. I’d like to tell you what that is but I feel a cold hand on my shoulder and a threatening presence behind me. I just dare not write any more.

* Ghost Stories runs at the Liverpool Playhouse until February 20.

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David CardenFebruary 19th 2010.

This sounds like my cuppa tea. I remember going to see "The Woman In Black" at the Palace Theatre a fair few years ago and almost cacking myself with fear. Is this production coming to Manchester? Good show or not, I'm not going to Liverpool...ewwww!

GarFebruary 19th 2010.

hmm... I was gravely disappointed!! the whole thing felt contrived.. never really felt the fear... as you've mentioned virtually the whole thing relies on the sound and lighting with the actors contributing very little to the fear factor...
If you want a real ghost story to make you jump from your seat, go see The Woman in Black who's success is proven in the west end. Even in a cavernous space like the Lyric Theatre at the Lowry it still managed to draw you in and leave you scared to leave the theatre, attributed to the atmosphere the actors create.

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