Much as we like to spend most of our evenings in with a good book, Blood and Vegetables has to admit that it is now getting warmer in the Great White North, and thus it behoves us occasionally to get off our butt, shake the cobwebs off our head, and venture outside, blinking in the last morsels of daylight. And what better reason to leave the ol’ crypt than to catch the opening night of Ghost Stories at Toronto’s Panasonic Theatre?
Ghost Stories opened in London in June 2010, the creation of writing/directing team Jeremy Dyson (The League of Gentlemen) and Andy Nyman (star of Dead Set and Severance). The show begins with a lecture on the paranormal and the human imagination, given by Professor Philip Goodman (played by Jason Blicker), a sceptic who maintains that paranormal phenomena can be explained by the willingness of humans to believe in the supernatural, and the power of imagination—with examples taken from a deserted warehouse, a remote woodland, and a nursery where all is not as it seems.
Although the stories contain a number of familiar tropes from horror movies, the theatre setting ramps up the tension from the outset, simply because the creative team has had to be more resourceful with lighting, sound, and blocking to control the audience’s perceptions of the on-stage action. The writers have also, thankfully, used a lot of humour throughout, which has the dual effect of occasionally diffusing the tension (since it’s difficult to keep your audience chewing their fingernails in suspense for eighty-odd minutes) and relaxing them nicely in time for the next scare. It’s imaginative, inventive and a lot more original than most of the West End fare adapted from movies you’ve already seen or rehashed from the back catalogues of musicians who were big in the 80s.
A disembodied voice at the end of the show exhorts the audience not to give away the secrets of Ghost Stories, and everyone knows that you shouldn’t disregard disembodied voices. The one caveat to bear in mind is this: If you’re a horror fan, you’ll be familiar with the sinking feeling that you get in the thoracic cavity when a well-funded marketing campaign tells you how thoroughly terrifying what you’re about to experience is (it’s up there with “based on a true story,” or “100 per cent medically accurate”). The publicity for Ghost Stories is rife with warnings about the hair-raising qualities of the show, and exhortations to the nervously disposed to think twice before picking up tickets. If Ghost Stories ultimately feels slightly disappointing, the problem doesn’t lie with the show, but in the hype that surrounds it. It’s a fun evening out, and it’s an ingenious piece of theatre, but it probably won’t keep you awake at night.