A production that probably needs no introducing at this point, we recently visited Ghost Stories in the death throes of its run. And although we didn’t have a terrible time with it, the show is quite problematic.
I hate jump scares. Hate them. Not because they’re scary. But because they’re not scary. They’re an incredibly lazy move and require little artistry to achieve the desired result. To prove that? Stop reading this review for a second and shout something out, as loud as you possibly can. If anyone’s in your vicinity, you’ll likely have startled them. See, you didn’t need a mask or to be wielding an axe to invoke that reaction.
To be genuinely scary necessitates a bit more than a crank of the volume switch.
Naturally, Ghost Stories is riddled with jump scares. I get it in a scare maze, that’s their shtick. But, in an 80 min show that has the real estate to develop character and build tension, resorting so often to cheap parlour tricks is disappointing. It’s not a scary play if every key plot point is punctuated by an ear-splitting sonic boom. The thought that I couldn’t shift throughout the show was that the creators didn’t have much confidence in their material to present it in the way that they did, using the exaggerated audio very much as a crutch.
And, ultimately, that’s the problem. The tales themselves don’t hold up without the accompanying aural assault. Pared back, with the exception of the connecting narrative, they all follow the exact same beats. It may be a slight spoiler to say this but once you’ve seen the first story play out, you will know how the following two unfold. There’s just not a great deal to this production beyond the flashy presentation.
To go along with this, the characterisation, saving the lead, is very broad. Especially grating was the character of Mike Priddle. It wasn’t the actor’s performance that was the issue, more that he was written to the near height of caricature. It was the same problem that we noted in The Exorcist, there was a specific character in that show who came across as larger than life and it doesn’t quite work when you’re spinning supposedly nerve-shredding yarns.
On the flip side of this; is Ghost Stories entertaining? Undoubtedly. Telling four stories across a brisk 80 mins, the show never lulls and it’s very well staged. Helping to keep things fresh, the sets are appreciably varied and well-realised, ably supported by some nice ambient tracks. Apart from the obnoxious jump scares, the atmosphere is solid, making terrific use of surround sound that actually had us turning around at certain points! That’s where some of this frustration originates, there is clearly a lot of talent behind the scenes but it’s wasted on flat material.
There’s also a genuinely interesting concept at the heart of Ghost Stories. It’s difficult to discuss what that is without giving away key moments but the show offers a rational explanation for what each character experiences and this then feeds into the overarching theme. There’s a reason why these three cases are being presented to the audience and, in this, a potential justification for why the stories are similar. It’s just that a lot of this simply gets lost and muddied in a desperate attempt to elicit screams.
That’s the weird thing about Ghost Stories, to use somewhat of a cliche, it is very much theatrical ‘fast food’. It gets the job done for as long as it lasts but you can’t help but feel you could’ve had a lot better. It’s a difficult event to score. On a technical level, the show is a success and you’ll most likely have a fun time watching it. But it is a terribly average show once you remove the bells and whistles.
+ Varied sets
- Weak stories
- Over-reliance on jump scares
This could, and should, have been a lot better. With more time spent developing the tales and a greater effort on producing something genuinely unsettling, this could be a great show. As it is, the kernel is there but little else.
Ticket Price: £32
Address: Lyric Hammersmith, Lyric Square, King St, London W6 0QL