Review: Ghost Stories

Beth McDonald 9 January 2015

Horror is perhaps the genre that is most rarely well presented on stage. One thinks of Macbeth, Grand Guignol, The Woman In Black and little else. This is even stranger as attending the theatre is already a creepy experience: you walk into a stuffy room with a group of strangers, sit down and then all the lights go out. As a huge horror fan, it feels like Ghost Stories was the answer to my perpetual cry of “Where are all the horror plays?” It shocks, it delights and – though it is by no means perfect – is playful enough to carry itself through.

The show takes the conventions of the modern ghost story and lets them squirm under a microscope. More than anything, it is an ode to horror in all its forms. When I tell you that the show asks its audience to keep the plot a secret after the show, one can assume that the narrative takes a few twists and turns. Sadly these can get in the way of the dramatic experience; the plot eventually wraps itself up in attempts to be clever and leaves its audience a bit bemused.

However, bemusement also comes hand in hand with amusement and this is by far the overwhelming feature of the production. The script is full of well-timed humour that enables self parody throughout. Furthermore, when experiencing horror in a communal environment, every jump scare becomes a source for comedy in the moments after the initial fright. It is true that no matter how ‘tricksy’ the stage trickery was, the audience would always see through the puppetry or the lighting etc, and giggle at the ridiculousness of being frightened by it. Indeed the technical team are responsible for the majority of the frights and should be complimented for their ability to create an intensely moody atmosphere as well as various jump scares. Above all, the show’s sound really excels in unsettling the audience without being intrusive.

The cast is made up of six men (equality eat your heart out) though it is Paul Kemp who excels as the unreliable narrator guiding the audience through the tales of terror. His comic timing is completely on point during interactions with the audience and his later physical movements are just sharp enough to be genuinely unsettling rather than absurd.

Finally, though this may seem like an odd point, I would be interested to ask the writers why every character had passively racist and xenophobic tendencies. For some reason each character has questionable lines that seemingly come from nowhere. On one hand, good horror tends to satirise or subvert contemporary concerns. It could be that the writers were trying to comment on racism and, by having each of these remarks delivered in a throwaway manner, shine a mirror against society and highlight, through our fears, our faults. However, this may be me clutching at straws and if so, I am left with the sad alternative that the writing is actually just offensive. If, at the very least, the former was intended, it certainly misses the mark.

Overall, Ghost Stories is often funny but often flawed. The show generally seems to favour comedy rather than horror and the plot twists are quite forced. Despite this, I cannot deny jumping from my seat a few times and, though not horrified, I was at least entertained.

6/10

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Ghost Stories is on at the London Arts Theatre. Tickets are available at http://www.ghoststoriestheshow.co.uk/