BWW Review: GHOST STORIES, Ambassadors Theatre
This review is spoiler free to optimise audience experience.
The extraordinary success of Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman's Ghost Stories back at the Lyric Hammersmith in 2010 led to multiple runs in London, a film starring Martin Freeman, Paul Whitehouse, and Alex Lawter, and a number of tours and productions all over the world. Now that it's opening in the West End, it's easy to see how the piece achieved all that.
The 80-minute straight-through show is filled to the brim with scrumptious spookiness. Directors Dyson, Nyman, and Sean Holmes start playing with their public from the outset of their experience, restricting the information on plot and presentation to a minimum on marketing material and websites, daring them to book if they're brave enough.
The trio certainly delivers, treating the crowd to top-notch quality fear. Designer Jon Bausor dresses the Ambassadors for the occasion, poking the guests' curiosity with carefully placed props before the darkness and eeriness take over completely. As with all things scary, the creative team bears the heaviest burden, and Bausor, James Farncombe (lighting), and Nick Manning (sound) build the atmosphere with impressive but sophisticated extravagance to envelop the tales.
The sets are simply spectacular. The stage transforms entirely between scenes, while a revolve moves the action as it happens. Scott Penrose's special effects are in full swing as the characters struggle with their darkest fears, making Ghost Stories a thrilling night out. Simon Lipkin is a remarkable Professor Goodman (a character previously taken on by Nyman himself), alternating fumbling charisma to precise agency in his one-size-too-big brown corduroy suit.
Garry Cooper, Preston Nyman, and Richard Sutton help lull the audience into a sense of security only to turn the tables and scare the living daylights out of them with flare. Suspence grows steadily, toying with truth and imagination while horror unfolds elborately.
Ghost Stories is not for the faint of heart, that's for sure, but that's not all it is. The play juggles humour and feeling, hitting uncomfortable pressure points in-between frights in a well-calibrated exploration of fear. Dyson and Nyman are, once again, triumphant.
Photo credit: Chris Payne