First seen in 2010, Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson’s Ghost Stories has continued to shock, thrill and haunt audiences through multiple London runs, a film release and now a UK tour. Arriving at the Theatre Royal Brighton with the provocative tagline “Are you brave enough to book?”, this show looks to prove its worth as a staple of the horror genre and hold its own against those that came before it.
It should go without saying that this is very much a horror show for horror fans and there are scares aplenty. These are brought to life in fantastic fashion with the deft use of techniques such as puppetry, stage lighting and illusion. They may be standard tropes, familiar to any fan of the genre, but they are realised expertly. And director Jeremy Dyson is not afraid to make you wait for them. Unease and suspense are built to dizzying heights as the audience is agonisingly forced to watch characters make cups of tea or play with phones whilst lights flicker and curtains billow ominously behind them foreshadowing what is to come. And the scares themselves remain, for the most part, unpredictable, impressive in a genre saturated with unoriginal ideas.
Also unpredictable was the surprising depth interwoven with the horror. This is a show that cares about character, motive and purpose just as much as it cares about jump-scares (and it cares a lot about jump-scares). We are treated to basic supernatural folklore and glimpses of real-life paranormal investigations which help layer the multiple narratives which Joshua Higgott, playing fiercely sceptical Professor Goodman, stoically and even sometimes humorously guides us through. For there is humour here. Ghost Stories knows it can have fun with its audience. Having the auditorium constantly on edge it revels in the unease and easily teases out nervous laughter in the fleeting moments of relief.
A fantastic cast deliver strong performances throughout. Richard Sutton treats us to the archetypal “corporate boy” who perhaps knows more than would be expected and there is an impressive professional stage debut from Gus Gordon as panicky teenager Simon Rifkind. Don Bausor’s design cannot go without mention either as the set, seemingly sparse but peppered with wonderful detail, moves fluidly with the action as landscape falls into landscape with incredible spectacle realised throughout.
Ghost Stories packs the punch its audiences crave. This could almost be taken for granted. What can’t be, however, is the thought and heart that is married with the horror. Because this is more than a ghost story, it is more than a love-letter to a genre even. It is an exciting unmasking of how our inner demons can manifest externally and an examination of why we fear what we do. And the answer comes with an almighty twist.
Theatre Royal Brighton, Tuesday 11th February 2020