A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!




Ghost Stories

David Cardy in Ghost Stories

Photo - Helen Maybanks

Written by Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman


Directed by Jeremy Dyson, Sean Holmes and Andy Nyman

Designer Jon Bousor


Lighting Designer James Parncombe


Sound Designer Nick Manning


Duke of York Theatre

Now Booking until June 2011


Few things are scarier than those that go bump in the night. But at least when said bumps are under your bed, you can pull the covers over your head and feel relatively safe.  Where can you hide when the bumping is loud, in your face and in a darkened, seemingly haunted theatre?

This Olivier nominated (Best Entertainment and Sound Design), fright-child ofThe League of Gentlemen's ‘master of macabre’, Jeremy Dyson, and Andy Nyman, co-creator and director of Derren Brown's television and stage shows and star of Dead Set and Severance, first came to shiver-inducing life at Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre before playing to sold out houses at London’s Lyric Hammersmith. By the time Ghost Stories opened in the West End last June (2010) it had already achieved cult status.

Thanks to Jon Bausor’s inventive Set Design, tension mounts from the moment you arrive in the theatre, and the air of anticipation thickens as you move past walls draped in panels of stretched plastic packing material with large numbers mysteriously chalked between. Construction lamps perched here and there lend an eerie, industrial glow. Nick Manning’s low rumbling, drip inflected soundscape heightens the ominous atmosphere. Is this really the Duke of York, or have we stepped into someone’s nightmare?

Narrator/lecturer, Professor of Paranormal Psychology, Philip Goodman (Andy Nyman) tells us firstly, about ghosts themselves – briefly travelling through their history and mythology, displaying unsettling photographic 'proof' to spurn our paranoia, before introducing three 'real-life' ghost stories, scientific jargon intact. This is followed by chilling re-enactments of three (out of thousands) ghost stories which have impressed the Prof. as being REAL. While his lecture has been a very interesting one, designed to enlighten, it becomes an increasingly more nerve-wracking experience bearing witness as his 'cases' relay their stories and they (and we) relive their horrors. Between these accounts, Nyman as Prof. Goodman interjects comic bursts of vagueness, suggestive of momentary madness and/or possession.

Tale no. one finds amiable night watchman Tony Matthews (David Cardy) on his last graveyard shift in the tiny office of a vast, empty warehouse housing who knows what from who knows where. The setting and idea of being alone in the middle of the night in such a vast, deserted space is unsettling enough, but coupled with the sounds of a heavy metal door unlocking and opening itself, it's almost too much. And we haven't seen anything, yet...

A university student with a secret is the focus of tale no. two as Simon Rifkind (Ryan Gage) drives down a dark, desolate highway on his way home from a party, midway between night and day. When his parent's car breaks down amid a gloomy forest of tall trees he (and we) wonder if he is really, alone.

Mike Priddle (Nicholas Burns) has it all - a killer mortgage, two mercs and a heavily pregnant wife, but it’s getting on top of him as, (mad laugh), the market's in trouble. To keep the wolves at bay he works day and night. So the last thing he needs is a mischievous spectre, especially while his wife’s in hospital.

Rather than scurry down a bat-walk of sinister, but snide, side glancing clichés, these three tales unravel slowly, initially on a more or less even keel, then, at a progressively more heart-thumping pace as fears begin to emerge. There are some genuine moments of fright along the way, though the tales' most potent punches lay in their ability to ignite the imagination into making wild fires from sparks. At one point, when our narrator, Prof. Goodman (Andy Nyman) casually re-entered the theatre through a side door in the stalls, he was met with spontaneous screams from many audience members, including me.

James Parncombe’s lighting design may seem a tad basic at times, but when the entire theatre is lit solely by a hand held torch, the edginess of the atmosphere fairly prickles, and how the little we’re meant to see in otherwise totally blacked out scenarios is illuminated makes all the difference. Likewise, Nick Manning’s sometimes OTT seeming sound design takes off into realms of its own when the sliming gets slipperiest, ending with an intense wall of overly loud gurgling, near gargling growling and gasping, in keeping with the show’s dark sense of humour.

Ghost Stories is not a spider, but its' glistening web, poised to entice hapless flies into taking an irreversibly fatal plunge.  It's not normal to act mental over the slightest variation in light or sound, is it? Yet, tension builds and builds during the course of this production, to the point where the audience seems to hover on a precipice, awaiting the merest tug of the puppet-master's strings to fling them into frightful action, when in reality little has been done to make it so, apart from the power of suggestion. It matters not whether we don't get Rosemary's Baby when we're set up to expect it, even if we are hiding from the memory of some childhood cruelty looming deep in the recesses of our mind. What matters is that the lingering residue of Ghost Stories stays with you, deep into the darkness of night and straight on till morning, when that misshapen blanket at the foot of your bed no longer resembles a staring zombie.

It is said that a sorcerer does not personally kill those he curses, but enables them to kill themselves. There's enough sorcery in this Olivier nominated production to steer its’ audiences right over the edge.  For nervous laughter on leaving the theatre quickly morphs into knee knocking bumps in the night.



Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman

Photo - Helen Maybanks



80 minutes with no interval

Not suitable for anyone under the age of 15


Duke of York Theatre
St. Martin’s Lane
London WC2


Ambassador Tickets: 0844 871 7627


Ticketmaster:  0844 847 2345 24hr bkg.

*£3.00 transaction fee applies No booking fee at box office

Tues – Thurs – 8pm

Fri – Sat 7pm & 9:30pm

Sun 5pm

Sun – Thurs £15.00, £19.50, £25.00, £29.50, £37.50

Fri – Sat £19.50, £25.00, £29.50, £35.00, £45.00

Tube: Leicester Square, Charing Cross




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