Ghost Stories reminds us that silence can be just as scary as things that go bump in the night as it takes a giant leap into the depths of our most universal fears. Idgie Beau reviews:

Since it first opened nearly a decade ago, Ghost Stories has remained one of theatre’s best kept secrets. Even with a film adaptation taking to the screens in 2018, it is still possible to venture along to this show with no idea of what is in store. The commitment audiences and critics alike have shown in keeping the plot unknown is a testament to their regard for true spectacle. And in returning to its spiritual home at the Lyric Hammersmith, Ghost Stories delivers a slick, well-crafted and entertaining 80 minutes.

You will jump, you will squirm, but most importantly, you will laugh.

Ghost Stories Lyric Hammersmith

Simon Lipkin (image courtesy of Chris Payne)

As to be expected from writers and horror connoisseurs, Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman, Ghost Stories uses a familiar setting to explore real fears and anxieties. Some fears can be considered to be human universals – we are afraid of the dark and of the unknown, of being alone and out of control. All of these come together in our ultimate fear of death.

Our understanding and anticipation of our own mortality is unifier across culture, religion and society. We create belief systems and supernatural stories to ease the overwhelming and terrifying possibilities of our reality. And, as Stephen King wrote, we take refuge in creating ‘make-believe horrors’ that are worse than anything we could really face. This is the function that dark folklore, grizzly fairytales, and their internet-based relative the ‘creepypasta’ serve.

And this is as near to a spoiler-free a summary of Ghost Stories as you can get.

Ghost Stories Lyric Hammersmith

Tony Matthews (:image courtesy of Chris Payne)

Ghost Stories is an incredibly successful example of how to present horror in theatre. While horror films can realise the limitless possibilities of the imagination through special effects and editing, theatre must use clever visual techniques to effectively achieve anything as simple as a jump-scare. It is therefore no surprise that the true star of this production is Jon Bausor’s incredible design. Through intricate staging, precise lighting and spine-chilling sounds, the audience are guided through the performance, unable to stray from the path mapped out by its creators. The design invades the audience space as well, blurring the lines between the two before the show even begins. Caution tape and flickering lights allow tension and fear to mount as soon as you take your seat.

Dyson and Nyman are well established names in the world of horror and visual spectacle, but what makes their work so engaging is its embracing of the comedy that can go hand in hand with horror. Nervous or inappropriate laughter is a natural response to fear – it allows us to regain control of our emotional state. Dyson and Nyman use this to their advantage through a script that is as witty and observational as it is tense. The cast and crew carry the creators’ vision with expert timing and respect, delivering an energetic masterclass in staged horror that is not to be missed this time around.

★★★★☆

Ghost Stories plays at Lyric Hammersmith until 18 May 2019. For more information or to buy tickets, please visit the venue website.