Updated: Aug 3
By Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman
Ambassador Theatre Group Productions, Smith and Brant Theatricals and The Lyric Hammersmith
18 February 2020 - 22 February 2020; 80min, no interval
The last time I remember being quite so anxious before I’d even got to my seat was in 1960. It was the infamous first-run season of Hitchcock’s Psycho. The studio publicity had been at full throttle, in particular banning entry to the cinema once the film had started, which in those days of continuous performances implied this was something to be taken very seriously.
I saw it at the New Oxford in Manchester city centre (now a MacDonald’s, sadly), where the frighteners were ramped up to knee-wobbling level by the contingent of St John Ambulance personnel in the foyer with their stretchers propped against the walls. And they were needed – during the shower scene a bloke on the row in front of me fainted and had to be stretchered out, and he wasn’t the only one...
So, Ghost Stories then. It began its spookily-successful life at Liverpool Playhouse 10 years ago, transferred to the West End and has been scaring audiences around the world ever since. There’s also a film, but for the authentic communal experience it has to be live...
Everyone who sees it, particularly pesky reviewers, is asked not to divulge too much of what happens, but for starters I can reveal that a small, very devious, cast produces some nightmarish moments.
The experience revolves around one Dr Goodman, a professor of parapsychology, who is giving a lecture on ghost stories. He has recorded interviews with three people who claim to have had supernatural experiences. We see their stories acted out on stage.
Each tale becomes scarier than the last. There’s a haunted warehouse, a broken-down car and a nursery and then... but that would be giving away too much.
The script is quite clever, if more than a little predictable; there’s an ingenious set that morphs from one dimly-lit location to another and there are several shock-frights involving special visual effects and sound.
Is it the scariest thing ever in a theatre? If you’ve ever sat in the front stalls during one of Dame Edna’s spectaculars, definitely not.
And we, my wife and I, thought the ghost train at the Daisy Nook Easter Fair was a more shocking, closer, encounter with many of the fairground tricks used here.
The Woman In Black is comparable in some ways, but has only the one big out-of-your-seat thrill. Here I lost count of the attempts to rival that.
And for me it’s nowhere near up to that first viewing of Psycho but it is an unusual and entertaining night out that a packed Lowry audience clearly enjoyed screaming at. Strap yourself in.
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