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Ghost Stories: Interview with Andy Nyman

Charlie Kenber

“I can’t help but feel that the audience are lambs to the slaughter!”

Andy Nyman is addicted to theatre. Well known for his own striking performances on stage and screen, he also writes and directs many of Derren Brown’s stage shows, feeding his love of magic and the surreal. Arriving at the West London industrial unit that serves as the rehearsal room for the revival of 2010’s hit Ghost Stories, I half-expect a suitably surprising greeting myself.

However instead I find a man whose enthusiasm for his work is infectious. As co-writer and co-director of the play – alongside his old friend Jeremy Dyson, of The League of Gentlemen fame – Andy is clearly passionate about the project. “It’s been incredibly exciting. Jeremy and I love the show so much,” he tells me. “I hand on heart think this is the scariest it’s ever been.”

Andy’s career demonstrates a taste for both horror and comedy (see for instance Channel 4’s shamefully neglected Campus), but – I venture – are the two not fundamentally distinct? “I think they are very comfortable bedfellows,” he counters, “because they can both deal with the extremes. I don’t think it’s bizarre.”

Perhaps for that reason, there are plentiful moments of humour in Ghost Stories. “If you look at the history of cinema the two forms that have consistently made money irrespective of world depressions are horror and comedy,” he continues, “and both of those things are totally disregarded by critics. There’s a very interesting thing there: if something is properly funny or properly scary the experience is not cerebral. It is about an instant reaction, a gut reaction, an explosion of laughter. The rhythm of horror and comedy are almost identical.”

Ghost Stories then promises just such an immediate, emotional encounter. Nonetheless, Andy is emphatic that the show, and horror in general can also leave you with plenty to think about. “Horror has consistently pushed boundaries, challenged, and moved attitudes. It’s an incredible thing. To use the horrible modern media expression, the take-home is huge.”

This makes the show a complete event that extends beyond the play itself. “The experience starts the minute the audience buy their ticket. Even before that: looking at the website, reading the warnings, which are true – it is of course delicious circus at the same time, but equally it’s not a show for kids. The show will scare you. It’s funny as well, but make no mistake it will lift you out of your seat.”

But just how scary can it really be? Judging by the night vision camera footage from the last run (see trailer below!), the reactions have been extraordinary. “Maybe once every two weeks someone in the audience would have a major panic attack that after the show at the stage door I would have to talk them down a bit. Maybe once a month someone would puke, and I think that was often because people would get a bit of Dutch Courage before they came in. Some people would run out before the show even started.” Andy pauses before continuing, “One person did – if I say ‘let go’ I think you can fill in the blanks. I was very aware of a kerfuffle in the audience that night!”

 

 

“There’s one point in the show towards the end where something happens that is a sustained climactic moment. There would occasionally be a scream from the audience that was like the scream of childbirth. I would hear that scream from the stage and it would not stop, and I would honestly think we may have properly traumatised somebody.” “And that was the BEST!” Andy adds with a laugh. “Have they ever got their money’s worth!”

Since the original production a number of things have changed in the show. The venue – the Arts Theatre – has an intimacy that is sure to thrill, “wherever you sit you are right there with the action,” Andy agrees, suggesting that the confines of a theatre greatly assists the show. “I love it. Like any good magic trick if an audience think they understand what the rules are, then you can break them in many ways that they don’t comprehend. That’s a delicious place to start thinking. It’s not cheap tricks…you can be much subtler and more unsettling, all within the confines of a theatre show.”

Having played the lead role in the original run, Andy has also this time opted to pass the baton on. “It was really important for us that this time round it felt like an entirely new thing. We wanted a brand new cast that would make it fresh.” Sitting out however is an equally rewarding, if nerve-wracking, experience. “Sitting out front and watching it for the first time is always terrifying. We always laugh about that – you want to say to the audience ‘you think you’re scared!’” he laughs.

So what next for the show? On top of this run the play is set to head to New York later this year, while a film version is in the pipeline for next year. In the meantime Andy’s schedule is packed with films, plays and TV. But for now, swallow your nerves and head down to the Arts Theatre. As Andy puts it, with more than a hint of pleasure, “I can’t help but feel that the audience are lambs to the slaughter!”

But at least he didn’t jump out at me.

Ghost Stories is on at the Arts Theatre until 24th May 2014. Tickets from £20, available here.

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