Ghost Stories

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Reviewed by Matthew Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Finally, a decade after it’s theatrical premiere at Liverpool’s Playhouse Theatre, Ghost Stories is embarking on a full national tour, and trust me it was well worth the wait!

From the twisted minds of childhood friends Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman, comes the ultimate scary theatrical experience, that will chill to your core.

Both Dyson and Nyman are no strangers to horror and the supernatural: Dyson is arguably best known for his work with, The League of Gentleman. Whilst Nyman is an actor and writer, who recently starred opposite Renée Zellweger in the Oscar winning film Judy. However, it’s his previous work with Derren Brown, which undoubtedly feeds into this production.

It would do the show a disservice to offer a review complete with plot synopsis and spoilers, the less you know going in beforehand the better. So, this review like a government investigation into Russian donors to the Conservative Party will be heavily redacted.

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Beginning with a lecture from Professor Goodman (Joshua Higgott), Goodman specialises in the study of the supernatural, especially debunking people’s stories, or exposing fakers and frauds. However, of all the cases that he has investigated there have been three that have stuck with him.

The first is that of security guard, Tony Matthews (Paul Hawkyard), and his unsettling final shift. The second is that of teenager, Simon Rifkind (Gus Gordon) and the strife his troublesome car gets him into. Finally, businessman, Mike Priddle (Richard Sutton) and the events that lead up to a family tragedy.

Can Professor Goodman offer up a rational explanation behind each of these stories, if so what can be?

If the aim of Ghost Stories is to have you jumping out of your skin then it achieves its goal ten times over, like a rollercoaster the thrills come thick and fast, just when you think you’re safe there’s another scare right around the corner. It’s not all shocks, there are several laughs too, with a pitch-black script and lots of fun gags, horror and comedy have often made strange bed fellows, Ghost Stories undoubtedly have got the balance spot on.

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With a production of this nature it of course relies hugely on its creative team and high production values and what they have created is something quite special. With James Farncombe’s lighting design, sound design by Nick Manning, then add into the mix Jon Bausor’s impressive set design and you have an atmospheric, gasp-inducing full-on sensory experience.

The cast are on fine form, Higgot has an engaging stage presence as our guide to the paranormal, whilst the three storytellers each bring something different to their tale. There’s comedy, drama, and terror from each turn but all done very differently, which is a credit to all three actors as well the sublime writing and direction.

This is so much more than a fright-fest: it’s smart, innovative and most of all an enormously fun piece of theatre that pulls out all the stops to give you a night out that will live long in the memory.

Ghost Stories is at the Lowry until the 22nd February 2020 tickets available here.

 

 

 

Interview |Andy Nyman & Jeremy Dyson | Ghost Stories

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There’s something dark lurking in the theatre…

Enter a nightmarish world, full of thrilling twists and turns, where all your deepest fears and most disturbing thoughts are imagined live on stage…

A fully sensory and electrifying encounter, Ghost Stories is the ultimate twisted love-letter to horror, a supernatural edge-of-your-seat theatrical experience like no other.

After thrilling audiences across the globe with record breaking, sell-out productions as well as a smash hit film, Ghost Stories has embarked on its first UK tour which arrives at The Lowry on Tuesday 18th February.

This exhilarating production is unique in the fact that despite having premiered a decade ago the secrets that make it such a hugely successful and uniquely terrifying show have remained well-guarded.

We spoke to creators Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson ahead of the show’s arrival at the Lowry to hear a little more about creating this supernatural spectacular.

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“Secrets are precious,” explains Andy Nyman. “If you give people a secret that they really enjoy and you ask them nicely to keep it, they do.” Before writing Ghost Stories, Nyman was the man behind many of Derren Brown’s mystery-filled stage shows and early TV performances so when it comes to keeping secrets, he’s more than qualified. “Jeremy and I love the experience of telling people a really good story without them knowing anything about it in advance. You feel the buzz in the audience; it’s an exciting thing to sit and watch.”

Clearly there will be no spoilers here so what can we actually say about the show? “Ghost Stories is a 90-minute scary, thrill-ride experience about a professor of parapsychology who investigates three cases.” explains Nyman. “A rattling hour and a half that will make you roar with laughter, leap out of your seats and talk about it for a very long time.”

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Nyman and co-writer Jeremy Dyson, who is best known for his work with The League of Gentlemen, have a long history that reaches back as far as their teenage years when their mutual love of horror saw them forge a lasting friendship. “It’s a very English genre,” says Dyson. “Certainly, when it comes to the supernatural side of things. The English sensibility defined a lot of that. It’s a very English tradition, and there’s no question that’s part of what we’re celebrating in Ghost Stories.”

With horror being such a popular film genre, we pondered the question as to why we don’t see more of it on stage, “I think it’s hard to do well,” offers Dyson. “You have to have a love both for theatre and for horror. It’s a bit like comedy. People talk about comedy writers having funny bones. I think you need scary bones to write horror.”

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The passion both Nyman and Dyson have for this piece is clearly a huge part of its success, “If people are paying their hard-earned money to see a show you’re putting on, you have a massive responsibility to give them more than they pay for,” says Nyman. “It’s not fair to think ‘that’s good enough, it will be fine’, you have to over-deliver. You’ve got to lose sleep over it. When the show is up and working and you keep tweaking it to get it right, and you see people going away happy, you know the main reason you’ve got to that place is you’ve felt a responsibility and you’ve worked hard at it.”

Ghost Stories opens at The Lowry on Tuesday 18th February and runs until Saturday 22nd tickets are available here.

 

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Since opening it’s doors for the first time in 2017 the Storyhouse has often made some bold and brave choices for their in-house productions Whether a fresh take on an old classic, a brand new or rarely seen production being brought to life, they always offer up something intriguing and unique and their latest production The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde is no exception.

Based on the novella by Robert Louis Stevenson, this adaptation for the stage by Glynn Maxwell is a new take on a classic story that we think we know like the back of our own hands but do we really?

Retaining its Victorian London setting, we find a young girl selling matches, she is viciously attacked in a mysterious assault. The next morning Dr Jekyll (Edward Harrison) is troubled by the memory of the match girl but confused at having a pocket full of matches but no recollection of how they got there. 

Dr Jekyll writes to his old friend and former assistant, Lady Gabriel (Natasha Bain) for guidance. However, Lady Gabriel is focused more on the letters of her niece Rose (Rosa Hesmondhalgh), a curious, feisty, independent young women seeking adventure and a place to stay in London town. 

With London besieged by a series of grizzly murders, Lady Gabriel hasn’t the time nor the inclination to help her old friend, her main concern is that of the safety and wellbeing of Rose. However, soon Rose’s curious nature rubs off on her Aunty, this coupled with her intrigue of Dr Jekyll’s work on the splitting of the soul as well the mystery surrounding the deliverer of the letters from Jekyll, a Mr Hyde (Matthew Flynn) lead the pair to a meeting with the Doctor.

Whilst at Jekyll’s house, Lady Gabriel and the Doctor have a private meeting, which Rose is certainly not invited to attend, this leads the inquisitive adventurer to go exploring when she stumbles upon Jekyll’s labratory, his journal and another encounter with Mr Hyde that puts her and and her aunty in great danger.

There is so much to admire about this production that it’s difficult to know where to start. The creative team behind the show have taken a great many risks with narrative, style and presentation and the risks reward the audience with an original, atmospheric and psychological chiller that has a great deal of relevance in the 21st century.

Maxwell’s script is an update on Stevenson’s source material, still there at it’s core is that battle, between  good and evil, and the duality of human nature, whilst making the decision to explain Jekyll/Hyde’s behaviour as that of addiction, a need to step from the dark into the light, which adds an intriguing layer. We also have a strong female presence in this adaptation, which is missing in the source material. The character of Rose is a new character, and one that is yet to be troubled and trapped by the world around her.

Under Psyche Stott excellent direction, we have four very different performances, Natasha Bain gives a strong, world weary, turn, a matriarchal figure of the piece. Rosa Hesmondhalgh is a breath of fresh air as Rose, adding light relief throughout but this is much more than a comedic performance, here is someone that the world hasn’t corrupted yet, but she is far from naïve. 

Often in productions one actor plays both Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, however we have Edward Harrison on good form as the frazzled unhinged, mad professor, whilst Matthew Flynn is menacing as his alter ego, I swear he grew in size as the play reached its conclusion. Flynn must wrestle with some poetic yet tongue-twisting dialogue, however he masters it skilfully.

 

What does make the production that extra special is involvement of choreographer,  Paul Bayes Kitcher, whose work with Harrison and Flynn really pays dividends, especially during the transformation scenes. 

Additionally, the sound design by Adrienne Quartly ratchets up the tension throughout, add into the mix a simple yet intriguing stage design of glowing copper pipes, Victorian lamps and secret passages and you have an innovative, thrilling and original piece of gothic theatre.


The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde is on at the Chester Storyhouse till the 19
th October. Tickets available here. 

Interview | Natasha Hodgson | Kill the Beast

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Lowry associate artists Kill the Beast return to the Salford venue next week with their new show Director’s Cut before they head off to Edinburgh Fringe for a summer of hilarious and a teeny bit haunting comedy japes.

Opening Night caught up with one fifth of the ‘Beast’s’ Natasha Hodgson to hear a little more about their latest offering and what exactly Lowry audiences can expect from the award-winning troop when Director’s Cut opens in the Aldridge Studio on 7th June.

Welcome to the worst film never made. Thankfully, there’s only one scene left to shoot… 

The fire has been contained, the wigs have been sterilised, and the star has been replaced after “The Accident”. Surely, nothing else can be waiting in the dark…

Director’s Cut, a madcap mash-up with a generous sprinkling of spoof horror introduces us to a 1970’s lead actress determined to take her revenge from beyond the grave, will she manage to stop filming on the most truly terrible and blisteringly bad movie she ever made?

Natasha Hodgson described to us where the idea for Director’s Cut came from. “We were chatting in a lovely sunny garden one day about our favourite horror films (classic sunshine chat) and how amazing, iconic films never seem to manage iconic sequels. We started talking about Rosemary’s Baby (one of our favourites) and imagining what a terrible sequel to Rosemary’s Baby – Rosemary’s Toddler? – might look like. And what if, whilst filming this terrible sequel, the spirit of the original film came back to wreak vengeance on this terrible follow up!”

Like previous shows The Boy Who Kicked Pigs, He Had Hairy Hands and Don’t Wake The Damp, Kill the Beast’s signature style of fast-paced action, original music and brilliantly bonkers comedy will lend itself perfectly to this silly yet sinister escapade. Natasha explained “I play a couple of characters, but my favourite is an older actor called Judy Goose, she’s been in the industry forever, and although she’s done a whole host of arthouse films, she’s always most excited about her adverts for Simpkin’s Soapy Scrubbers (“for wives and for mothers”) because of their big, fat pay-cheques. You’ll also learn that she’s a dab-hand at dealing with a dead body. But you’ll have to see the show to find out which one…”

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Here at Opening Night we are enormous fans of Kill the Beast’s deliciously dark humour and inventive staging, Natasha confirmed while the humour remains there will be some new and rather exciting changes to the staging of this new production, “Our hearts belong to ridiculous, dark and silly jokes, and that’s always going to be at the forefront of everything we make. However, we’re ditching the projections this time around, in favour of actual AV screens – it makes ghost trickery a lot more fun. We’ve done three shows with projected sets, and this time around we wanted to build something solid from scratch – we’ve got a real life 70s film set on stage, and we can’t wait to cause catastrophes within it.”

Now in their sixth year as Lowry associate artists Natasha explained just how important the support from The Lowry has been, “We feel so, so lucky to be supported by them, and if more theatres provided the sort of 360 care and help that they do, the emerging theatre scene would be able to take a lot more risks, and make a lot more fantastic stuff. But hell, it’s a hard time for the arts. It’s a hard time for a lot of stuff. Best thing we can recommend? Come see a silly, fast-paced comedy about a vengeful, opinionated ghost. That will probably sort everything out.”

Director’s Cut opens at The Lowry on Thursday 7th June and runs until Saturday 9th tickets priced at £12 (£10 for concessions) can be found here. here.