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Review/interview: Ghost Stories

As University students, the prospect of sitting through an 80 minute lecture may seem quite tedious. However, ‘Ghost Stories’ is a lecture with a twist, and one that should definitely not be missed at the Duke of York’s theatre in London. Created by Jeremy Dyson, who brought us ‘The League of Gentleman’, and Andy Nyman who works with Derren Brown, ‘Ghost Stories’ has shed a new light on horror, reinventing all our most favourite horror movies and transforming them into a strangely funny and bone chilling show.

Presented in the format of lecture, the show opens with a Professor of parapsychology denouncing the ghostly with simple logic and reason that can most commonly be put down to guilt and grief. One by one, three ghost stories are acted out, all based on interviews that the Professor has personally carried out. The first story involves a night watchman at a creepy depository, the second a young teen who is involved in a hit and run and lastly a yuppy business man anticipating the birth of his firstborn. Suspense and tension is superbly held in every tale, with long lingering silences leaving the audience cowering behind their partners. The staging and lighting are cleverly arranged to increase shock factor while the foyer and walls have been mocked up to imitate a haunted house. While at times I felt on edge and spooked out, I felt slightly let down having watched the clips on the website of screaming audiences, which perhaps frightened me more than the show itself. ‘Ghost Stories’ was great fun but it also reminded us that horror should not be taken too seriously. The balance of the comic and the horror was a perfect marriage, two sides of a coin that helped in heightening tension while also expressing Dyson and Nyman’s love and excitement for a genre in which they have both always been so intrigued.

While ‘Ghost Stories’ will not leave you quivering for days on end, a night out to see this show will definitely not disappoint. The writers’ joy and love for this genre is transparent, and this seeps through the show into the audience. A strong sense of intimacy is created in ‘Ghost Stories’, which is unusual for a show of its sort. ‘Ghost Stories’ will leave you feeling very excited about theatre, while also leaving you with an unsettling hatred for the smell of bleach.

The Badger had the privilege of talking to Andy Nyman, renowned  actor and writer of the Ghost stories to ask a few questions.

Tell us about your early influences and where this interest in horror stemmed.

When I was 13 I went to see John Carpenters movie ‘The Fog’ & it was like something shifted in my brain. From that moment on I became obsessed with horror. Fortunately this obsession coincided with the infamous Video Nasty boom in the UK, so suddenly there was a whole new array of unseen horrors waiting for me to experience. The love and fascination with the genre has never left me & I get as excited today when I see a new horror movie coming out as I did when I was 15.
What is it about ‘Ghost Stories’ that makes it different from other horror productions?
I think one thing that sets it apart is that it is filled with mine & Jeremy Dyson’s joy & love. Our excitement, sense of fun & love for the genre is palpable, and I think this comes through in the effect it has on an audience. We also wanted to write without limits, by that I don’t mean in levels of violence, but in terms of what was possible to put on stage. I hear from a lot of audience member that they feel like they’re watching a movie as opposed to theatre. I love that as it implies a real intimacy has been achieved. Maybe the biggest thing that has set us apart is the sheer amount of screams and laughs you get from the audience.

In your opinion where do you think fear lies, in the suspense or in the action?
Fear has to live in the suspense, the build up to the unknown. Maybe terror lives in actually seeing what comes after the wait. Ooooh, that’s a great tagline, ‘First comes fear, then the terror’.
Should horror be realistic in order to be successful?
There are so many different types of horror that anything goes. I think it has to have a colonel of truth so that it touches the psyche, but the lack of logic and reality is what can make nightmares so odd and disarming.

Is there is a link between the comic and horror?
Of course, they are the most perfect bedfellows. They are fundamentally the same emotion, they are a non-cerebral gut reaction to a situation. You don’t think ‘Is this funny?’ – you just burst out laughing. In the same way you don’t think ‘Is this scary?’ you just scream!

Does ‘Ghost Stories’ play on all the senses?
Oh yes. That’s one of the things we are most proud of. Not saying anymore on that subject.
Is there a message in this production and if so, what is it?
Yes. Like a lot of horror the message of ‘Ghost Stories’ is actually deeply Christian (with a small ‘c’). It is this, ‘Be nice, your actions have repercussions’. I guess that could also read ‘Do unto others as you would have done unto you’.

Describe ‘Ghost Stories’ in three words.
Great scary fun.

Do you have anything else in the pipeline?
Yes. Not saying what.

Will ‘Ghost Stories’ be making a trip to Brighton?
Maybe one day, but for now we are in the West End until June 2011, so come and see us.

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