Ghost Stories | Theatre review

Duke of York's, London

At the heart of Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman's Ghost Stories is a thought-provoking and emotionally moving proposition: that paranormal phenomena do exist, but they are mind tricks played by a consciousness overwhelmed by feelings of guilt or inadequacy and the fear of being found out. Rather than allow the audience to project their own demons on to the stage, however, the writer-directors – in collaboration with director Sean Holmes and designer Jon Bausor – conclude each of the evening's stories with an appearance by a stage monster that is more comic than unsettling.

It's a shame, because the team sure know how to crank up the tension. As you walk into the theatre you are accosted by a soundtrack of drips and rumbles and eerie whines; the stories are played out in pitch-dark spaces tactically illuminated by a torch, car headlights, and the soft glow of a nightlight. The show manipulates our senses so effectively that it makes us unusually aware of the physicality of the people around us, too: of held breaths and clenched stomachs and nerves coursing with adrenaline.

But having put its audience into this heightened state, the show delivers nothing particularly scary. You are constantly aware that the creators are falling back on tried-and-tested tropes from literary and cinematic horror: one story is set in a deserted warehouse, another in fog-shrouded woodland. And they fill these spaces with all-too visible spooks, when half-glimpsed flashes and the power of suggestion might be more effective.

It's engagingly played, not least by Nyman as a sceptical parapsychologist tormented by his own malignant memories. But, ultimately, Ghost Stories ignores its central premise that nothing is more frightening than the human imagination, to its cost.

Contributor

Maddy Costa

The GuardianTramp

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