Review - Ghost Stories returns to the Lyric Hammersmith
It’s difficult to satisfy every audience; not everyone has the same sense of humour or taste in music. Rarely do you leave a theatre with a feeling like you get after Ghost Stories: a communal sense of disbelief and palpable relief.
Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson’s thriller blends stagecraft and scares to cast a spell over its audience. Having sent shivers through the West End and on international tours, it returns to the theatre where it all began as it forms part of outgoing Lyric Hammersmith artistic director Sean Holmes’ final season.
Taking your seat at the Lyric, which has been dressed up with construction lights and black and yellow tape, you’re not quite sure what you’re getting yourself into. If the pre-show warnings are anything to go by, this might be the scariest night of your life, yet the more cynical might write it off as a marketing ploy, and ready themselves for a night of Thorpe Park-style cheap thrills.
What you do get is a bit of a theatrical masterclass. My first experience of this piece wasn't through this stage incarnation, but the 2017 film adaptation starring writer and director Nyman, who is currently starring in Fiddler on the Roof. While the film gave me the chills, I was sceptical about how the CGI and camera tricks would translate on stage, but it succeeds in delivering gut-wrenching edge-of-your-seat tension punctuated by some flinching jump-scares.
Critics are asked not to give too much away about the story of Ghost Stories (#KeepTheSecrets), but Nyman, who also directs alongside Dyson and Sean Holmes, clearly draws upon some of his experience working with illusionist Derren Brown here. With James Farncombe’s use of light to disorientate and Nick Manning’s loud, piercing sound design, it delivers screams aplenty.
The whole thing is framed around a lecture by parapsychology professor Phillip Goodman, played by Simon Lipkin. His skill is being able to relax the audience somewhat, and lull them back into a sense of security while delivering impassioned statements about human nature and the supernatural.
For those who have seen the play before, or are familiar with the film, it is also a pleasure to go back and witness Dyson and Nyman’s clever foreshadowing; impressive writing that makes the payoff even more satisfying.
Performances in a show like this have to be first-class to draw you into the illusion. Garry Cooper sets the tone with a poised performance, he has you ready for a shock in the midst of the mundane. Preston Nyman brings a frenetic, uneasy energy while Richard Sutton, perhaps overplaying his role in the early stages, commands the unravelling of the piece to its manic conclusion.
It’s easy to look back and play down how scary it really was, but in the moment, there was a heightened sense of fear. Trying to anticipate the scares only left me feeling scared by something as mundane as the dry ice rolling into the stalls, but it was the well-crafted, chilling dialogue that had me sleeping with one eye open last night.
Ghost Stories tickets are available now.