Ghost Stories, the creation of Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson, premiered at the Liverpool Playhouse in 2010. The simple aim was to create a truly scary show, and, whether the individual viewer finds it quite that frightening, the fact it has played to over 300,000 people suggests it has tapped into something.
This is now its second appearance in London and, although it slightly develops the earlier version, the element of surprise is still key to the attendee’s experience. So, rather than give any more away than we did four years ago, let us consider more widely the techniques that can be used to make theatre scary.
There are what might be classed as the physical tools such as lighting and sound effects (even smell can play a role). Their implementation, however, must be timed to perfection, and they need to hang on a set-up that enables them to work their magic. In this respect, the subject matter, and whether it taps into a primal fear such as pain or death, is of primary importance.
Psychological factors can enter the equation to create a disparity between what we are told and what we actually feel deep down. The more we are spoon-fed rational explanations for supposed encounters with ghosts, the more we might fear that the lecturer is deluded or has something to hide.
Finally, there is the perceived safety of the environment to play with. If lights suddenly cut out in an auditorium, a prolonged silence prevails, wailing is heard in the distance, and even actors and technicians seem taken aback and powerless, then all sense of control is lost.
But the reason we are giving nothing away is that Ghost Stories employs some of the above techniques, but not others. And as for whether the end product is scary or not, you’ll just have to head to the Arts Theatre and judge that for yourself.
Booking until 24 May 2014 at the Arts Theatre, Great Newport Street, London, WC2H 7JB. For tickets (£20-55) visit the Ghost Stories: The Show website.
Londonist received a complimentary ticket and programme from Target Live.