Ghost Stories arrives at the Ambassadors Theatre in London’s West End just in time for the season of spooks and all things that go bump in the night. Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman’s show, which they wrote and directed, has enjoyed considerable success since it premiered as a co-production with the Lyric Hammersmith and the Liverpool Everyman in 2010, going on to tour around the world, and even becoming a film. The Ambassadors gets into the act right from the moment you enter the foyer, with lots of spooky sound effects and mysterious numbers chalked up on the walls. This theme continues once you take your seat, building up a nice atmosphere with the help of hazard tape and flickering worker lights. Since this is an eighty minute show without an interval, ushers are kind enough to remind the audience that if they leave the auditorium once the show has begun, they cannot be readmitted. It doesn’t hurt the sense of anticipation by making one feel a bit trapped as one sits down.
Dyson and Nyman clearly know their stuff, and how to build suspense. There are a few nods to other classic tales in this genre. Fans of the paranormal will enjoy the way in which the actors set up each story, ably assisted by a flexible set, designed by Jon Bausor, but most of all by the sound and lighting effects (designed by Nick Manning and James Farncombe, with special effects by Scott Penrose). The effects cue each shocking denouement and can be on the loud and bright side, so be warned. Simon Lipkin as Professor Goodman gives a solid performance as the academic whose career has been spent debunking paranormal phenomena. Naturally, Ghost Stories is all about the three cases he can’t explain. Garry Cooper as Tony Matthews, Preston Nyman as Simon Rifkind, and Richard Sutton as Mike Priddle all shine as the hapless protagonists of the three tales that follow. Richard Sutton gives a particularly good performance as loathsome dealmaker Mike Priddle, but all three succeed in upping the creep factor. Despite these strengths, however, so much of the success of this show depends on careful preparation of the audience, and this can feel a bit manipulative. Stories about the paranormal tend to be at their most effective when viewed in a darkened space with no distractions—such as a cinema, or one’s own living room—alone in the house, of course. There’s just a little too much distraction in the Ambassador’s auditorium with the hazard tape and the flickering lights. Fans may find the film version of Ghost Stories gives more bump in the night for your buck than the theatrical production.
But if this is your first experience of a show about the paranormal, you will probably enjoy Ghost Stories. It’s well crafted, and well performed. More experienced connoisseurs may feel that the special effects overpower the storytelling, however, and don’t give the audience’s imagination enough space to heighten the horror. Because isn’t it what we don’t see or hear, and can’t explain, that create the ultimate shocks in a world so ready with easy answers to every question?
Reviewed by Dominica Plummer
Photography by Chris Payne
Ambassadors Theatre until 4th January then UK tour continues
“tries to pack in a some messages along the way, some of these work and add a touch of sentiment to the show, but others feel a little unnecessary”
OK, from the start let’s make it clear – this is not, definitely not, a Take That musical. Set in Manchester, featuring five lads in a hugely successful boyband and blasting out the back catalogue of aforementioned supergroup, we’re clear from the onset … this is not, repeat not, a Take That Musical.
As we walk into the auditorium, we’re transported back to 1993 with a giant screen on stage rolling through the pages of Ceefax – a little lost on some of the younger audience members, but to us of a certain age, pure nostalgia. As the show starts we’re in what could be any teenaged girl’s bedroom of the time, with walls adorned with Smash Hits posters. We meet young Rachel (Faye Christall) who brings us up to speed about how she, and her mates Heather (Clayton), Debbie (Rachelle Diedricks), Claire (Sarah Kate Howarth) and Zoe (Lauren Jacobs) are in love with a certain boyband. Skip forward twenty five years and Rachel (Rachel Lumberg) wins a competition to see her beloved pop heroes in Prague. Having drifted apart from the others, she tracks them down and invites Heather (Emily Joyce), Zoe (Jayne McKenna) and Claire (Alison Fitzjohn) to see their childhood idols.
Throughout the plot opportunities are created to shoehorn in some of Take That’s biggest hits, with scenes that cleverly switch from us following the girls/women to us being in the audience of a concert. Most people will know that the lads in the band (A. J. Bentley, Yazdan Qafouri, Nick Carsberg, Curtis T Johns and Sario Soloman) were picked in the BBC contest ‘Let it Shine’. In the year and a half since, they have become a close knit five piece and the show (touring since September last year) has become the fastest selling musical theatre tour of all time.
However, Take That are masters of their game, from lad band to dad band, they have always been talented showmen who excel at everything they do so it’s hard not to compare the boys in The Band with Howard, Jason, Robbie, Gary and Mark; therein lies a problem – however hard they work, they are never going to compete either vocally or performance wise. Don’t get me wrong, AJ, Nick, Curtis, Sario and Yazdan are talented young performers, but there were a few duff notes and the choreography at times wasn’t quite as polished in places as it should have been for a West End stage.
The set (Jon Bausor) was fun with a few nice surprises. However, it did look a little like it was created just to be easily toured with. There were some clever use of video projection (Luke Halls) to flesh out scenes but this was inconsistent as for every outstanding part there was one which was rather unexciting.
The Band tries to pack in a some messages along the way, some of these work and add a touch of sentiment to the show, but others feel a little unnecessary. There are some parts which may raise a few eyebrows in this day and age – dodgy Polish accents and fat jokes to name a couple. This isn’t outstanding musical theatre and doesn’t deliver anything new. However, if you take it at face value, it is a fantastic, fun experience and certainly one you’ll Never Forget.
Reviewed by thespyinthestalls
Photography by Matt Crockett
Theatre Royal Haymarket until 12th January then continues UK tour