Tuesday 11th March 2020 at the Grand Opera House, York
When it comes to this spooky joint venture from Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman, it’s so much more about the journey than the destination. Using all bells, smoke, trickery and whistles available, this production swiftly creates a mild hysteria within its audience. If you’re looking to be left on the edge of your seat clutching your neighbour, then this is the show for you…
Set up as a lecture in which a trio of ghost stories are relayed by the very rational, assertive Professor Goodman (Joshua Higgott), each interlude from our academic gives way to the story playing out in all its high-tension drama. Jump scares and red herrings abound. Shadows and spooky sounds fill all available space. The suspense created is often incredibly skilful and shrieks from the audience are plentiful.
Jon Bausor’s designs are adoring of the dark and come complete with copious amounts of smoke and sudden blinding, disorientating light sources (James Farncombe) – all creepy visuals helped along with way very nicely by Nick Manning’s classically skin-crawling sound design. Scott Penrose’s special effects are indeed in turn pretty special, conjuring visions from worst nightmares for our thrill-seeking gluttony. And the final answer is pretty darn well executed too.
Though the cast be but small in number, they tell a set of tall tales very well between them. I am sworn to ‘keep the secrets’ of this production so I’ll be brief… Joshua Higgott is a great lead who brings some intriguing ambiguity to the character, nailing the big reveal with…quiet gusto. Gus Gordon offers up a classic naive teen beautifully while Paul Hawkyard takes us through our paces as an isolated night shift worker. Richard Sutton completes the set, courting mockery and menace as a business yuppie with a dark experience tormenting him. Together they keep us suitably unsettled for the duration…
However. In truth, this is quite a fun-loving show beneath all the surface gothicism, well crafted suspense and indulgently mysterious narrative. Sean Holmes joins the writing team to direct and the trio clearly have a firm grasp of the close relationship between fear and laughter. We’re encouraged to laugh at ourselves here; playing on our susceptibilities to the power of suggestion when it comes to ghouls and ghosts, this production scratches at nerves through spooky stagecraft before allowing us to dissolve into relieved laughter.
Whether you’re satisfied by each conclusion or not, there is one undeniable truth about Ghost Stories on stage: it gets audiences positively giddy. The answers, once revealed, may not keep us up at night but the experience of waiting for that conclusion just might…definitely one for the thrill-seekers!