Mark Ludmon finds Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman’s Ghost Stories still shocks in its latest West End outing at the Ambassdors Theatre
Ambassadors Theatre, London
It is nearly ten years since Ghost Stories began terrifying audiences. After premiering at Liverpool Playhouse in February 2010, Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman’s spine-tingling show has had several London runs and been taken around the world as far as China, Australia and Peru as well as becoming a hit film two years ago. Like the best ghost stories, its appeal refuses to die out and it has returned to London’s West End for another outing in time for Halloween and the winter solstice.
Even when you already know the full story, it still has the power to make you jump. In fact, on a second viewing, I realise just how much I missed the first time, making it something even more horrifying and disturbing. It has a structure familiar to those of us who grew up on old “portmanteau” horror movies such as 1945 classic Dead of Night, made up of a series of different stories loosely threaded together by another story “arc” (as they say in TV now). Here, Professor Goodman opens the play interacting with the audience as if at a public lecture, promoting his secular, cool-headed message that there are no such things as ghosts.
He sets out to present and debunk three real-life, present-day accounts of supernatural experiences. From a derelict storage facility to a remote foggy country road to a smart Notting Hill home, these classic-style stories are brought to life on stage with ingenious design by Jon Bausor and special effects from Scott Penrose complemented by James Farncombe’s clever lighting design and Nick Manning’s unsettling sound effects that fill the whole theatre. These tales are full of slow-building tension and sudden scares that still manage to elicit screams and nervous laughter from the audience. In the best tradition of horror, they are also infused with dark humour and touches of silliness.
Simon Lipkin is excellent as Goodman, engagingly delivering his debunking lecture with deadpan earnestness, continuing the long gothic heritage of the empirical scientist confronting the supernatural. He is strongly supported by Garry Cooper as a grumpy security guard, Preston Nyman as a spoilt teen, and Richard Sutton as an arrogant trader. Directed by Sean Holmes with Dyson and Nyman, Ghost Stories continues to deliver the thrills after nearly a decade. Hazard tapes, flickering lights and an eerie soundscape heighten the tension in the Ambassadors auditorium, and even before you enter the theatre, a warning sign calls on “those of a nervous disposition to think very seriously before attending”. Judging by one ashen-faced walkout after the first ghost story’s scares, it appears some people didn’t take this seriously enough.