In discussion: Ghost Stories

Ghost Stories is one of those fabulous rare occasions when I feel that theatre has made an impact upon the people of the city. In London, theatre is grounded within the city’s culture, whereas this is seen to a lesser extent in any other city. Regional theatres arguably have to muster their audience as new for each production. But as Ghost Stories settled into the Liverpool Playhouse, I began to hear people talking about it in coffee shops and see that my non-theatre-going friends were going to see it. This is a relatively rare occurrence when this happens but since opening a little under two weeks ago, Ghost Stories has made somewhat of an impact here.

Our weakness to our own curiosity is the reason this particular show has attracted audiences of this size and we are reminded of this weakness as the play begins. However, my curiosity has developed beyond this initial intrigue in that I’m interested to see if it is possible to make theatre truly incredible and extraordinary enough to be intensely thrilling. Theatre is proverbially about shared experience and community, however it is often as much about our own individual and personal experience and this type of theatre intensifies that. The challenge is that each person’s tolerance to horror varies greatly and therefore satisfying every level is arguably very difficult.

Originally I began deconstructing this piece as I would any other but this rendered impressions of dissatisfaction and disappointment that somehow didn’t match my actual feeling whilst watching the play. Here is the point to appreciate that this is not a play as any other, this is as much about the experience as it is about the play. Theatre is about exercising our senses and making us feel utterly alive; stage horror does this in the crudest form, whereby you literally feel your blood pumping through your body, where you attempt to preempt your reactions and you amplify your senses. However this is the downfall for my enjoyment of frightening theatre compared to film as you are more a part of the experience than when watching onscreen and therefore your own defenses often spoil the thrill.

I am unconvinced as to how well stage horror can work. Film horror does not have to be totally believable, whereas stage horror has to be unexplainable yet believable as it appears live in front of you. I feel that this requires a compelling and slow developing story to build tension, with thrills of increasing intensity careful placed within the timing of the piece. In this respect Ghost Stories failed for me. The story was not slow developing and it was difficult to build a connection to the onstage characters. I’m looking for stage horror that is not about the sudden thrill but the creeping intensity of an unexplainable and simply terrifying story. For this, I don’t feel that Ghost Stories has pushed the boundaries of this somewhat under-explored genre. However, the experience provided by the event satisfactorily disturbs your senses and it will be a very different experience for every person in the audience.

From League of Gentleman writer Jeremy Dyson and co-creator and director of Derren Brown’s television and stage shows Andy Nyman, Ghost Stories plays at the Liverpool Playhouse until 20th February, transferring to the Lyric Hammersmith from 24th February.  I recommend it highly for its experience, you’ll probably love it or loathe it.

theatreJunki © 2010

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