Theatre Royal Brighton
Reviewed – 11th February 2020
“a well-oiled piece of theatrical machinery, which can be trusted to generate the audience reaction it was created to produce”
Ghost Stories is something of a theatrical phenomenon. Premiering at the Liverpool Playhouse in 2010, it has since toured extensively in the UK and across the globe, and was also, in 2017, turned into a film. Unusually, the play’s publicity campaign does not employ production shots, and critics and audience alike are asked to ‘keep the secrets of Ghost Stories‘, in order to ensure that new audiences are alive to the show’s surprises. As a publicity tactic, this can only be admired, and it has clearly played a big part in this production’s success. The pre-show buzz had a very particular energy in Brighton last night, and it was clear that there were a lot of horror fans in the audience. As the play’s chief protagonist states in the play’s opening: for the most part, people come to this kind of show to play a game with fear. It is a very particular type of sensory titillation. On this front, it seemed the show did not disappoint. There were certainly gasps and screams aplenty throughout, and they pretty much happened on cue, in terms of the theatrical techniques employed to produce them.
Broadly speaking, this is a production that operates on two levels – the naturalistic, and that of heightened horror. If each of these speak to you equally, you are in for a treat; if, like this reviewer, you favour one mode significantly over the other, the likelihood is that you will find the show tonally uneven and ultimately somewhat frustrating. There is some very good acting to be seen here – Joshua Higgott as Professor Goodman and Paul Hawkyard as Tony Matthews give particularly detailed performances, and there is strong work too from Richard Sutton – and writers Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman have come up with a neat narrative structure that works effectively. The design team too – Jon Bausor, James Farncombe (Lighting) and Nick Manning (Sound) – have created a slick and atmospheric series of worlds within a world. Scott Penrose’s special effects are a massive part of the show, but again, are a potentially divisive element. To this reviewer, there were elements that smacked rather too much of a fairground ghost train, and took away from the real fear generated by the power of the acting and the narrative itself, but plenty of audience members seemed to have their experience enhanced by these moments.
In essence, Ghost Stories is a well-oiled piece of theatrical machinery, which can be trusted to generate the audience reaction it was created to produce. There are shocks aplenty, but ultimately it is a formulaic genre piece – albeit quite a clever one – and therefore actually very unsurprising.
Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw
Theatre Royal Brighton until 15th February then UK tour continues
Previously reviewed at this venue: