Review: Ghost Stories

Spooky symposium
Owen James

Endowed in hazard tape and festoon lights, the bellows of Melbourne’s Athenaeum Theatre make for the perfect location for a night of Ghost Stories. The intimate yet cavernous space is superbly transformed into numerous locations through extremely effective Lighting Design by James Farncombe and stunning Production Design by Jon Bauser; the production looks a million dollars.

Penned by Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman, the play was a long-running smash hit in the West End, and it’s easy to see why. Designed purely to elicit screams and yelps from audience members tempted by a ghoulish evening, the text relies, as all good horror does, on capacious sequences of suspense, exploding into heart-palpitating jumpscares. This is a very fun night at the theatre, and hearing the packed Athenaeum scream together is a delight.

Taking the form of a horror anthology ala Creepshow or Tales From The Darkside, three seemingly isolated stories are framed by the conceit of a lecture dissecting the history and mythology inherent in Ghost Stories themselves. Steve Rogers masterfully leads this ongoing lecture as Professor Phillip Goodman, whipping through sometimes extraneous passages with delight, and coping with building horrors of his own.

While staving clear of spoilers, it’s safe to say the first story featuring Jay Laga’aia as unnerved nightwatchmen Tony Matthews is undoubtedly the strongest. Laga’aia lulls us into a tense sense of calm as his horror draws closer and closer, milking the building stress in a realistic and cathartic performance that is the highlight of this production. Laga’aia’s exquisitely paced storytelling is aided by, again, superb Lighting Design from James Farncombe.

Darcy Brown plays stranded motorist Simon Rifkind with delightful dread, and Nick Simpson-Deeks is perfectly cast as smarmy businessman Mike Priddle, tormented with infantile terrors. Strong Direction from original creative team trio Jeremy Dyson, Sean Holmes and Andy Nyman successfully lands each tale and its alarming climax, rewarded with screams from the baited crowd.

Mastering horror on the stage is a difficult and admittedly rarely explored feat, and Realscape’s production of Ghost Stories tackles this challenge with tremendous design and absorbing performances. Sure, the scares are silly sometimes – but isn’t that the point of a good ghost story?

For the next couple of weeks, every time a streetlamp flickers, I’ll think of Ghost Stories, playing a limited season until November 5:

Photography courtesy of Charles Alexander