by Lynn on April 13, 2011

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Panasonic Theatre. Written by Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman. Directed by Jeremy Dyson, Sean Holmes and Andy Nyman. Designed by Jon Bausor. Lighting by James Farncombe. Sound by Nick Manning. Special Effects by Scott Penrose. Starring: Darrin Baker, Jason Blicker, Jack Langedijk and David Reale.

Presented by Lyric Hammersmith, Phil McIntyre Entertainments and David Mirvish.

Professor Philip Goodman is an enthusiastic parapsychologist specializing in myths. He explains there are no monsters and that there is a perfectly good explanation for all those things that go bump, bang and boo in the night that terrify us. Except in three cases. These three cases so frightened the people who experienced them, almost to witlessness, that the good professor has a hard time explaining them rationally.

What did the night watchman really see late that night on his last shift? Was it really what he thought it was? Was that young man in another story so worried about driving without a license that he imagined all the terrifying things on that deserted road? And in the third story what went wrong with that successful couple who were anxious to have a baby? Was that room really haunted? Impossible. But then again….

But it is the last story that is the most unsettling; the story that Professor Goodman doesn’t want anyone to know about; the story that shows there is no place to hide from our demons and devils.

Ghost Stories is a frightening romp. Writers Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman play on our worst fears—of the dark; of strange noises when we are along; of the desperation in wanting to know: “WHO’S THERE?” and getting a deafening silence in return. Then they ramp it up.

Designer Jon Bausor has designed the entire inside of the Panasonic Theatre to look like a crime scene. Yellow ‘caution’ tape is stuck across the walls, along the sides of the auditorium, even along the railings going down to the washrooms. Strange numbers are written on the walls that will be explained in the various stories. Plastic covering is wrapped around other areas.

Nick Manning’s sound scape of eerie noises, thundering sounds and crashing screeches rumbles and roars as the audience files into their seats, and then escalates during the show. Needless to say the murky, hazy lighting by James Farncombe adds to the atmosphere of foreboding.

Directors Jeremy Dyson, Sean Holmes and Andy Nyman know how to use sound and light to create the suggestion that something terrible is going to happen. And the audience, willing to suspend their disbelief, goes right along with it. But it’s the silences that keep the audience holding their breaths, and screaming because when the payoff comes, they have no choice.

As Professor Goodman, Jason Blicker is compelling and full of conviction in his explanations of why things scare us. As Tony Matthews the night watchman, Jack Langedijk gives a fine performance that would dissuade anyone from working at a night job alone. As Simon Rifkind whose car breaks down on a deserted road, David Reale is frantically intense as he gets more and more spooked. And as Mike Priddle, the expectant father, Darrin Baker goes from being a cocky wheeler-dealer to a man coming to grips with his fears.

We live in frightening times under ordinary circumstances. Perhaps some think that nothing could scare them. But the creative team of Ghost Stories knows that and plays on it. There were enough screams from the audience during the show to suggest that when you least expect it you can be terrified. Ghost Stories is done with skill, panache, wit and a keen eye to knowing what spooks us. When you see it, and you should, take an extra pair of underwear, just in case.

Ghost Stories plays at the Panasonic Theatre until May 29, 2011.

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