Photo by Charles Alexander.
Steve Rodgers gives a dexterous, multifaceted performance in the Australian debut of a spooky West End hit
Caution tape wraps itself around the elegant awnings of Melbourne’s Athenaeum theatre, and the stage is marked with bold lettering: SAFETY CURTAIN. It brings to mind waiting in line for an amusement park ride, in an elaborately decorated area that is designed to evoke a certain theme or feeling.
The feeling here is one of fear – or at least it’s trying to be. Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman’s popular Ghost Stories, which premiered in London in 2010, finally makes its Australian debut with a local cast after being pushed back due to Covid. Directed by Richard Carroll (The Boomkak Panto, Calamity Jane, Once), the production promises thrills and spooks on stage, and issues a warning: “We strongly advise those of a nervous disposition to think very seriously before attending.”
A Shyamalan-worthy twist
Without giving too much away – this production is reliant on suspense and mystery, and its creators request we not spoil the show – the play is delivered as a lecture by Professor Phillip Goodman (Steve Rodgers), who specialises in parapsychology. He presents three case studies of inexplicable paranormal activity, experienced by a nightwatchman (Jay Laga’aia), a teenager who’s nicked his dad’s car to go to a party (Darcy Brown) and a skeezy businessman who’s about to become a first-time dad (Nick Simpson-Deeks, who has one repeated – but very funny – visual gag). The subjects of these stories are interviewed by the professor, and then the audience is taken into the heart of each incident through re-enactments.
...the kind of play that might reward a second (or third) viewing to properly appreciate the level of detail in the foreshadowing that’s peppered throughout.
A Shyamalan-worthy twist […], and small visual details become significant when the threads come together at the end. This is the kind of play that might reward a second (or third) viewing to properly appreciate the level of detail in the foreshadowing that’s peppered throughout.
The lies we tell ourselves to stay sane – that’s the real harrowing, haunting stuff,
Much of Ghost Stories takes place in the dark, amping up the fear factor – the stage is often pitch black, illuminated only by a torch or car headlights. There’s one brilliant moment where another sense is activated so subtly that it’s not noticeable until it’s everywhere. But the production leans too heavily on visual and aural shock to deliver the majority of its punches, and the result is often more comical than actually unsettling.
The psychological twists are much more effective than the schlocky and obvious jump scares, with Rodgers’ dexterous, multifaceted performance a particular highlight. The lies we tell ourselves to stay sane – that’s the real harrowing, haunting stuff, and the show is at its most effective when it plays in this more mentally abstract area.
there’s a palpable feeling of tension in the room that taps into the communal nature of live performance...
Because so much of the action happens in the dark, there’s a palpable feeling of tension in the room that taps into the communal nature of live performance, with everyone experiencing the same thing at once. It’s nice to experience that again, even if the source is a little hokey.
The Guardian article. Ghost Stories review – more schlocky than scary but there’s fun to be had, published on 3 Oct 2022. Read the full article here.
ARE YOU BRAVE ENOUGH TO BOOK?
MELBOURNE at the Athenaeum Theatre: https://bit.ly/GhostStoriesMEL
NOW PLAYING until Nov 5
ADELAIDE at the Dunstan Playhouse: https://bit.ly/GhostStoriesADL
From Dec 7