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Wednesday 12 February 2020

Review: Ghost Stories @ Theatre Royal Brighton Delivers More Than Just The Wow Factor

Since debuting in 2010, the current production of Ghost Stories has played around the world (and even been made into a successful film). This tour of the 2019 revival from the Lyric Hammersmith comes to Theatre Royal Brighton this week, complete with the pre-show warning "Are you brave enough to book?"

As a show which relies on a variety of sensory and theatrical devices to ramp up the tension, not to mention a twisty ending that is thrilling in its audacity, the authors ask reviewers and audiences to "keep the plot and secrets of our show". So no spoilers here.

Needless to say, it features a number of common horror tropes - not to mention some psychological hoopla - the fun begins when you walk into the theatre with spooky and unsettling noises both in the bars and the auditorium. 

With Andy Nyman working with Derren Brown on his shows for 20 years or so, and with special effects helmed by magic circle magician Scott Penrose, these aspects throughout the show (both subtle and unsubtle) work a treat. 

Co-writer Jeremy Dyson was the "silent partner" in The League of Gentlemen, so again this should give a clue as to the sensibility on offer here.

It seems an odd thing to review an audience - but it's worth it in this case. 

Pre-show (to the background of aforesaid noises) a palpable sense of anticipation runs through the theatre - a couple of folks nearby started chatting to me, only to say how scared they were. 

During the show the (no spoilers) jump-scares provoke audible gasps and shrieks, followed by an inevitable nervous laughter. 

The beauty of the writing here is that this build-up and release of tension is both factored in to the story, and allows us to establish a relationship with the narrator as he guides us through his lecture on fear. 

This character, Professor Goodman, ably and beautifully played by Joshua Higgot, anchors the show - when he begins the show with "Ask yourself this. What is it that drew you to this event? If it's to discover what scares you then the answer to that is easy…" he once again racks up the tension. 

Although it's easy to walk away from such a show with just a "wow factor", the subtlety of the writing and understanding of how horror is a game of tease and release is essential, and the show has this understanding in spades.

The remaining 3 characters are played excellently, Gus Gordon, Paul Hawkyard and (returning from the Lyric run) Richard Sutton bring their various characters vividly to life.

This 90-minute show - with no interval - is a straight up fun roller-coaster ride, which is chock full of thrills, and wonderfully played. As a purely theatrical exercise it works, and as a superb entertainment it works.

I heartily recommend it to anyone who likes a good ghost story - and not just for the thrills, but also to see the way the genre has been cleverly deconstructed and put back together for the stage.

Full disclosure, I had previously seen the Lyric production, and I'm still in awe at one particular effect… 

Ghost Stories at Theatre Royal Brighton until Saturday 15th February 2020. CLICK HERE for tickets.

by: Gary Cook




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