Ghost Stories is that rare thing that comes along every so often and rewrites the rule book. In this instance it delivers on all counts. This international, cult, success is rightly enjoying a revival 10 years after its opening night at the Liverpool Playhouse.
The brainchild of Writer/Directors Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman the format is standard fare. It starts as Professor Goodman (Joshua Higgott) a parapsychologist takes his position at a lectern and begins his lecture which challenges humanities over reliance on the supernatural. The theatre lights are switched on and the audience are asked to participate. “Put your hands up if…”. He then embarks on a journey where he shares three testimonies recapping paranormal activity that have occurred.
The first tells the tale of Tony Matthews (Paul Hawkyard) a Night Watchmen; the second Simon Rifkind (Gus Gordon) a student; the third Mike Priddle (Richard Sutton) a businessman. Each is introduced via a tape recording of a previous interview, and that’s when things really get interesting. As each character begins to recount their story we’re whisked away to a re-enactment of the ‘scene of the of the crime’ so to speak.
Light and sound play a major part of this production. Both are ‘amped up’ to 11 in the capable hands of James Farncombe (Lighting Designer) and Nick Manning (Sound). This coupled with the Scott Penrose’s special effects mean that we’re catapulted from bleak, darkened, silence to ‘edge of your seat mania’ with wild abandonment. You suspect something’s going to happen – you just don’t know when. And when it does happen, I guarantee you’ll jump. And I really do mean jump! The shock levels displayed here are akin to those excepted at the cinema not a common or garden theatre performance. Yet it translates perfectly.
In between each vignette Professor Goodman is commanding as the ‘safe pair of hands’ that holds this piece together. He quotes facts, scenarios and statistics at the audience akin to the opening scenes of Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon series. “Pareidolia…” he cries, (the tendency for incorrect perception of a stimulus as an object, pattern or meaning known to the observer, such as seeing shapes in clouds; seeing faces in inanimate objects or abstract patterns). We’re ‘reminded’ that 51% of the earth’s population is now ‘on-line’, whilst 20 years ago this was 0.4%. Why does this matter? It matters because once a rumour starts, nowadays it has the capability of spreading like wildfire and that this act of digital transference reinforces its validity. So much so that what was just a rumour or misinterpretation now becomes a version of the truth. It’s his mission to dispel such notions.
★ ★ ★ ★
If you make it to the end of this performance in one piece the twist is very rewarding. Ghost Stories is truly the output of minds that are in touch with the macabre. There is a child-like reverence for horror that is manifest by employing techniques previously only at the disposal of cinema and TV producers. Based on the success of this performance and indeed the show’s run, I have to ask myself, why doesn’t this type of show happen more often?
Ghost Stories is at The Lowry, Salford Quays from 18-22 February 2020.