If someone were to ask me what show I’d like to see, Ghost Stories would probably not be the first thing that came to mind. I typically frequent the theatre for musicals – horror theatre isn’t normally my haunt. Pun completely intended. My pre-theatre ritual normally contains obsessing over soundtracks, cast lists and stalking youtube trailers so that I’ve absorbed every minute detail of the show prior to seeing it. Walking in to watch Ghost stories, with its distinct lack of online information, I was vastly out of my comfort zone.
This was of course, entirely by design. In the theatre, there’s an atmosphere of uneasy anticipation. Nervous laughter erupted from corners of the room and urgent whispers were exchanged. People scrambling to prepare themselves for what they’re about to witness, the intensity amplified by swirling background noises and low lighting.
The reminder to turn off your phone echoes round the room alongside a warning that you will not be readmitted should you leave. Never before have courtesy announcements felt so much like threats.
My scant mental preparations failed me and I still jumped when the lights darkened. I immediately began to question my choice of evening entertainment. But I couldn’t exactly leave now.
The premise of the show is simple: Professor Goodman, a logic-bound lecturer on the subject of paranormal activity reveals the three ‘Ghost stories’ he can’t explain away easily. More than that I will not reveal.
Through the intermittent lecture sections rhetorical questions are asked, there’s a PowerPoint, awkward jokes and the lone lectern at the corner of the stage. The show breaks that all too important fourth wall by addressing the audience directly serving to efficiently remove the protection this barrier typically provides when the story breaks to ‘showing’ rather than ‘telling’. Joshua Higgot plays the irreligious academic Professor Goodman so convincingly I was uncomfortably transported back to my university days. Honestly, there’s nothing quite as anxiety-inducing as feeling like you’re in a lecture you haven’t prepared for.
It’s this uncomfortable familiarity that makes the ‘stories’ he goes on to tell so effective. Like all good thrillers, Ghost Stories builds on those mundane yet unsettling situations that everyone has been in and thought ‘what if?’. It captures the background rumblings that only emerge in silence, the corner-of-your eye movements you only see when alone and then, at the point when rationality and sanity should kick in, it floors you.
With only a small cast, the show made a big impact through concealment.
An intricate use of magic and misdirection was complimented by the selective use of lighting, sound and even smell. You saw only what you needed to see, your mind filling in the rest.
When curtain call comes you’re still tense, thoroughly distrustful that it’s all over.
In fact, as we (quickly) walked through the dimly lit car park to go home, we were acutely aware that it wasn’t over.
If you’d like to put your heart and your sanity through it – Ghost Stories is on at The Lowry until Saturday.
For further information and to book tickets visit HERE
Review by Hannah Johnson for #Boltonlive