“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
When not out reviewing for us, our team attend many more shows which they’d love to tell you about. Take a look at what they’ve been seeing recently
THE LARAMIE PROJECT | ★★★★ | RADA GBS Theatre until 30th November 2019 | Seen by Ethan Doyle
An interrogative and harrowing verbatim piece on a despicable homophobic murder that explores the attitudes of the town in which it occurred with frankness, intimacy, and hope. The performances are sublime in their service of the text and there are some truly striking visual moments too. Just make sure to bring tissues – you will cry.
DEAR EVAN HANSEN | ★★★★ | Noël Coward Theatre until 30th May 2020 | Seen by Flora Doble | Photo by Matthew Murphy
The hotly-anticipated Broadway transfer of Dear Evan Hansen has finally arrived at the Noël Coward Theatre in London. Exploring mental health, suicide and the social media abyss, Dear Evan Hansen is a groundbreaking and powerful piece of theatre that will hopefully help facilitate important conversations about depression, anxiety and youth suicide.
THE LION, THE WITCH & THE WARDROBE | ★★★★★ | Bridge Theatre until 2nd February 2020 | Seen by Katre | Photo by Brinkhoff Moegenburg
A beautiful, magical production with superb puppets and an amazing multi-talented cast. A really special show..
SOLARIS | ★★★★ | Lyric Hammersmith until 2nd November 2019 | Seen by Dominica Plummer | Photo by Mihaela Bodlovic
A lyrical, thought provoking, but somewhat disappointing adaptation by David Greig, of Stanisław Lem’s classic science fiction novel. In the eerie presence of the sentient planet Solaris, an orbiting space station sent from Earth experiences the inexplicable. Greig updates this unforgettable story by adding a female protagonist to a crew trying to avoid madness a long way from home and from those they have left behind. Or have they? Enjoyed for superlative performances and a memorable set design that alternates between the bright clean lines of the space station and the moody seascapes of the planet below.
LUNGS | ★★★★★ | The Old Vic until 9th November 2019 | Seen by Dominica Plummer | Photo by Helen Maybanks
The Old Vic’s revival of Duncan Macmillan’s eco love story reunites Claire Foy and Matt Smith in a seamless two hander about a couple considering parenthood in a world on the brink of climate change. Macmillan’s script holds up well and Foy and Smith recreate the onstage chemistry that ups the stakes in this timely drama. It was a treat to see the traditional Old Vic create an intimate theatre in round so that everyone in the audience could feel that much closer to this conflicted couple and their story.
SHOOK | ★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse until 23rd November 2019 | Seen by Dominica Plummer | Photo by The Other Richard
Samuel Bailey’s Papatango prizewinning play is performed to great effect in a gritty, naturalistic setting about three young offenders who are also parents. Bailey’s play is an absolute gift to powerhouse performers like Josh Finan, Ivan Oyik and Josef Davies, with good support from Andrea Hall playing their empathetic teacher. Bailey’s tale may lack a satisfying denouement in this memorable portrait of prison life, but his talent for dialogue and characterisation will ensure him a devoted following for whatever he chooses to write next.
DEATH OF A SALESMAN | ★★★★ | Piccadilly Theatre until 4th January 2020 | Seen by Rebecca Crankshaw | Photo by Brinkhoff Moegenburg
Sharon D Clarke and Wendell Pierce give powerhouse performances in Arthur Miller’s classic drama.
GHOST QUARTET | ★★★★ | Boulevard Theatre until 4th January 2020 | Seen by Jonathan Evans | Photo by Marc Brenner
An intoxicating, bizarre and sometimes baffling musical. The narrative threads weave themselves into knots, but the gorgeous score of this song cycle lines the show with magic. Magic that is matched by this impressive new venue in the heart of Soho.
ON BEAR RIDGE | ★★★★ | Royal Court until 23rd November 2019 | Seen by Jonathan Evans | Photo by Mark Douet
Riveting, off-beat theatre that takes you to another place. Surreally dark, shone through with stunning performances.
MARY POPPINS | Preview Performance | Prince Edward Theatre until 7th June 2020 | Seen by Chief Spy | Photo by Mark Douet
The all time classic returns with its incredible score, magnificent staging and an outstanding cast including the legendary Petula Clark. You’re guaranteed to leave with a smile on your face.
DEAR EVAN HANSEN | Preview Performance | Noël Coward Theatre until 30th May 2020 | Seen by Chief Spy | Photo by Matthew Murphy
The winner of six Tony Awards finally arrives in the West End and the wait has definitely been worth it. Steven Levenson’s book combined with Pasek & Paul’s outstanding score make this the show to see. This performance had Marcus Harman in the lead role proving he’s an exceptional alternate Evan.
“The unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable” just one of many typically Walden witticisms that sparkled like fireworks at this performance. Perhaps no surprise that it’s deeply sympathetic to the eponymous character, well-played by Liza Goddard. There’s a hint of grimly controlled madness about her performance, with her off-kilter stance and dress, with some real poetry in her speeches. To the audience’s satisfaction, she turns the tables on her nemesis. Directed by Dominic Dromgoole. Roy Hudd and Isla Blair also appear in this witty and thought provoking show.