Review by Rhys Tarling
Ghost Stories is a lavish, sometimes startling, production. The constant haze of smoke that permeates the stage keeps us as just in the dark as the hapless and lonely victims of the supernatural entities and so their mounting fear matches ours. When they point and scream “the hell is that?!” at some figure lurking in the dark, we are honestly inclined to echo their sentiment with equal fervour. The slow burning tension, enhanced by an eerie ethereal soundtrack and convincing performances, eventually reaches such an intolerable degree that by the time the victims finally come face to face with whatever-the-hell, it’s a relief. If a horror show’s worth can be measured strictly by an audience reaction, then this show is worthwhile. But there’s more to recommend here beyond the base thrill of being terrified.
The set design choices are canny. These people inhabit dirty and gross spaces; an old cluttered dimly lit office, a beat-up car. No gothic architecture or anything generically scary to be found here. These sets are clearly meant to evoke a sort of recognisably mundane awfulness. That, combined with the haze smothering much of the stage, makes it quite easy to buy into the story, and as such, every emotion is amplified. And the methodical pacing allows for a rich experience.
The story written by Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman allows for a welcome amount of humour to undercut the tension or, more delightfully cruelly, to gently ease the audience’s guard down only to hit them with something unexpectedly weird or shocking. It’s a delicate balancing act that is successfully pulled off as just about everything seems funnier or scarier than it should be. The tone of the piece is perfect. The story, specifically the final third of it, is where Ghost Stories stumbles a little.
The play is divided into three short pieces. The first two are great, well paced and compelling. The last third was simultaneously overwrought and anaemic. The curiously flat performances didn’t help matters. But Ghost Stories regains its freaky groove during the final ten minutes, whereupon we’re introduced to a monster — the only monster not obfuscated by clever lighting or haze — that is so singular and memorable in its design and performance that it damn near overshadows everything else.
Ghost Stories is a fun time and should be seen by all. Especially you, the Faint Hearted and Easily Scared, because ultimately it’s harmless and you’ll feel the thrill more potently than anybody else.