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Review: Ghost Stories (Sydney Opera House)

Venue: Sydney Opera House

(Sydney NSW), Jul 8 – Aug 15, 2015 Playwright: Jeremy Dyson, Andy Nyman Director: Peter J. Snee Cast: Tim Franklin, John Gregg, Lynden Jones, Aleks Mikić, Ben Wood

Horror movies have existed since the dawn of film technology in the 1890’s. It is a genre of storytelling that has always existed, and as such, should be thought of as integral to the way we communicate as a species, yet live theatre does not seem to have embraced that particular mode of presentation. Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman’s Ghost Stories adopts for an assembled crowd, the tradition of telling scary tales of the paranormal, with the intention of fascinating our senses and entertaining us. The work aims simply to frighten and thrill, so the script is tailored precisely for that purpose. It does not add much else to the experience, but its unpretentious simplicity helps it achieve an unusual show format that is refreshing and often very scary indeed.

Peter J. Snee’s direction cleverly manipulates all audio and visual cues in the venue to create the familiar sensations one derives from the horror genre. Unlike film though, we seem to require less extreme stimuli to respond with fear in live theatre. Thankfully, Snee does not push our limits too much, and the experience he provides never becomes unbearable. His design team (comprising Phil Shearer on production design, Christopher Page on lights, and Lana Kristensen on sound) does an excellent job of fulfilling its brief of creating a relentless air of skin-crawling foreboding that keeps tensions high, and when appropriate, shock us with powerful effects that literally make us jump.

There is a glaring lack of gender and ethnic diversity in the piece, but its all male cast is an accomplished one, with Lynden Jones’ performance as Professor Goodman providing the show with an inviting and dynamic energy. The actor is charmingly compelling, with an ability to turn the outlandish contexts believable, and a warmth that engages us for the entire duration, even when the plot starts to lose its resonance in its final moments.

Ghost Stories is a rare form of entertainment in the live arena, but it certainly does what it says on the bottle. The scares diminish with time, perhaps because of our acclimation to the production’s provocations, but on the occasions that it is effective, few things are quite as electrifying. There are many ways to have frivolous fun at the theatre, but choosing a night of horror over yet another musical is more than a novel option.

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