Sarah Blake reviews West End’s Ghost Stories, a jumpy thriller at the Arts Theatre
As I sat waiting for Ghost Stories to begin and listening to the sinister music crescendo around me, I worriedly began to ask myself why I had come. I asked myself a similar question at the end of the performance, but for rather different reasons. The advice on the show’s website is that anyone of a nervous disposition should ‘think very seriously before attending’. This guidance renders anyone brave enough to buy a ticket tense and anxious before seeing the show, simply for this expectation to come crushing down as the show proceeds.
The narrator, a professor of Parapsychology played by Paul Kemp, begins his first monologue by introducing himself to the audience, and includes us in the action by explaining that we are his pupils. After he awkwardly shouts at the audience, Richard Dawkins style, that the bible is a ghost story and heaven doesn’t exist, he then explains that he will deliver a lecture on three of his own ghost stories; accounts from three people who assert that they have had supernatural experiences.
These stories are all told by more or less equally unlikeable protagonists, whether it is for their disgusting habits, their frustratingly exaggerated nervous temperament or their arrogance. The stories are distinctly lacking in originality and, whilst trying to not give too much of the plot away, all contain some form of supernatural creature jumping out from behind an inanimate object. As disappointing as the plotlines are, they are executed well. Each of the five actors work well the material that they were given and manage to create relatively realistic, yet unlikeable, characters.
The sliding set design is also very well implemented, with smooth changes between scenes which are effective in transforming the atmosphere from one of a lecture theatre to one of a haunted setting, and back again. The sound effects are successful as well; moments after the audience are reminded to switch off all mobile phones, a startling crash frightens every spectator, suggesting a terrifying night lies ahead. These sound effects throughout the show are the only aspects to make sure that, whilst the website’s description of ‘extreme shock and tension’ is a vast exaggeration, the more jumpy members of the audience do let out screams and squeals right the way through.
Despite my negativity, I did not have a completely awful evening. In fact, to some extent, I quite enjoyed myself. There were some interesting plot twists and, despite the fact that the show was not especially scary, it was at times funny, even if it was not intended to be. The ghosts and monsters left half the audience laughing out loud at the end of what were meant to be frightening, dramatic scenes. I’m not saying that I was never frightened – I was. However, after having read the dramatic warnings of how scary the show was going to be, I expected I would be having nightmares for days after; it is safe to say I slept completely soundly. If you get scared incredibly easily and you don’t mind paying West End prices for a ticket then you are bound to have a rather enjoyable evening. However, if you are unsure, then this is definitely one to miss.
All image credits: Ghost Stories