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Ghost Stories at Lyric Hammersmith

10 April 2019 | Maisy Farren

Ghost Stories has been a world-wide success and a cult phenomenon since its creation in 2010. From its humble beginnings at Lyric Hammersmith it has gone on to tour across the globe, showing in Toronto, Moscow, Sydney and Shanghai, and was transformed into a film in 2017. Returning to its roots for 2019, the show is back at Lyric Hammersmith with some extra twists and turns to keep returning fans on their toes.  

The show comes with a warning: Ghost Stories contains moments of extreme shock and tension. Accompanied by a trailer of audiences screaming and jumping in their theatre seats it’s fair to say we went into this with trepidation. Partially sceptical of the show’s ability to honestly be that scary, and partially nervous for what was about to come, the audience settles in for the ride. As the opening music blares the audience jumps, leaving us wondering whether this production is in fact going to be scary or just too loud. 

The talented Simon Lipkin introduces the show as Professor Goodman, an expert in his field of Parapsychology(the study of mental phenomena), delivering a lecture on paranormal sightings to you, the audience. An engaging and comedic lecturer, he encourages the audience to delve into their own ideas and emotions towards the paranormal. He goes on to account three ghost stories that have troubled him over the years, three instances of inexplicable events, all of which are played out for you on stage. In between these re-enactments we return to our lecture with Prof. Goodman and are encouraged to consider once more our reactions to the events.
 
Fundamentally, this show is pretty scary. Whilst the fear element comes primarily from jump scares, the production builds tension expertly. During our first ghost story we join old Tony Matthews (Gary Cooper) at his job as a night’s watchmen in a disused building, as he experiences a spooky sighting during the 4am witching hour of his shift. We watch as Matthews settles himself into his tiny security cabin, whiling away the time before he does his next round. The cramped cabin takes up a small amount of the stage space, with the rest of the stage acting as the outside-world and being completely plunged in darkness. Tension grows with absolute trepidation as the audience becomes more and more aware of the imminent nature of absolute threat. This growing tension carries on throughout the 85-minute production, and whilst taking short breaks during the return to the lecture setting, grows and grows to a terrifying climax. 
 
Constantly changing set design makes the on-stage activity creepy, with lots of ill lit shadowy corners and dark spaces for supporting cast to move around in. However, the use of light in the theatre is what draws the audience in, breaking the fourth wall and placing the audience in the centre of the threatening space. Cast use torches to shine into the audience, looking for danger, and bright headlights of a car blinds the audience, leaving you feeling disorientated and on edge. As actors look into the distance of the theatre, they give you the creepy feeling of something about to jump out from behind your chair, and every cough and wriggle of the people in the row behind you will no doubt set you on edge. 
 
Ghost Stories is the lovechild of Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson, who between them have worked in a wide range of productions. Nyman has spent 20-years collaborating with illusionist Derren Brown, and Dyson was ¼ of the comedy troupe The League of Gentlemen. Mirroring the creepy and thought-provoking style of an episode of Inside No. 9 (BBC), it combines deception, fear and threat with a British sense of humour and fulfils the expectations of what you would expect from both of these accomplished writers. 
 
As the show closes the audience is asked ‘not to reveal the secrets of Ghost Stories’, which contributes to the mystery and allure of a production that’s been running for almost a decade. We massively recommend catching the show before it’s closing night on 11 May, and for the ultimate fear factor we request you go into it knowing as little as you can. We also advise you consider buying a programme at the box office, just so you have something to hide behind when things get a bit too much… 

See Ghost Stories at Lyric Hammersmith from now until 11 May. 
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