The extent to which I allow myself to be completely taken in by a ‘warning’ on any kind of horror experience is, quite frankly, a little embarrassing. I try to remind myself that such warnings are usually a ploy to help sway audiences towards attending, and yet as soon as I read them I instantly begin to hype myself up to the point where it’s impossible to remain neutral. I am already sweating profusely before I even set foot through the door. Not this time, I told myself. After I read the warning on the Ghost Stories website…
“WARNING: Please be advised that Ghost Stories contains moments of extreme shock and tension. The play is unsuitable for anyone under the age of 15. We strongly advise those of a nervous disposition to think very seriously before attending.”
...I tried my best to ignore it, and it worked (at first). I felt relatively calm as we entered the theatre. I was intrigued by the interior decoration along the theatre walls, and somewhat unsettled by the ambient sound effects, which were unobtrusive yet oddly sinister in their pervasiveness. Nervous chitchat ebbed and flowed around me. The atmosphere was weighty and palpable. A sense of dread was slowly creeping in.
If only I’d known. Those decorations, the subtle sound effects. Not mere window dressing. These elements were foreshadowing what was soon to become my worst nightmare. The warning was no exaggeration whatsoever.
Scene by scene, Ghost Stories burrowed deeper under by skin with a gradual yet brutal attack on my senses. There’s one moment in the show which continually causes me great distress, and the timing of this moment is nothing short of genius. It sends a powerful message to the audience: “you’re not safe here.” Jump scares abound in Ghost Stories, and many of them actually function as a clever decoy. They create a false sense of security, masking the methods which will eventually be undertaken to shock and disturb you to the highest degree. Moments of dark humour also serve the same purpose. These combined elements build the tension slowly and effectively, before the true nature of the show is revealed. There’s an odd comfort in the familiar pattern of tension and release, and this is ripped away in the most brutal fashion. The searing final flourish is intense and deeply psychological; it really caught me off guard and was not the type of fear I was expecting to feel. The jump scares were pulling the wool over my eyes from the very beginning.
Our second row seats in this small theatre may have gone some way towards making this experience as intense as it was. Upon leaving, I couldn’t help but wonder whether I might have felt different if we’d sat further back. Being positioned right in the line of fire, with nowhere to hide (and no interval), the most visually alarming moments of the show hit us particularly hard. But regardless of seating, the overarching theme in this play is what delivers the fatal blow.
Ghost Stories is engaging, horrifying, and extremely intelligent in its execution. It’s perfectly crafted, superbly acted, and the clever set design connects the various elements of its unique narrative seamlessly. If you love a good (and powerful) scare then this is not to be missed, but be warned- its dark energy could conquer you, so just keep telling yourself: it’s only a play…
In my many years as a horror lover and horror film festival programmer, Ghost Stories is the only experience which still gives me nightmares, and troubles my thoughts when I’m alone in the dark. This is no mean feat. I regret nothing – in fact, I've since gone back for more!