Theatre review: Ghost Stories

The Australian premiere of a London smash hit production thrills and entertains.

Billed as not suitable for anyone under 15, this Australian realisation of a West End show that first made an appearance in 2010, is a fun, provocative and at times genuinely scary experience that does its best to present phantasmagorical events within the confines and limitations of a theatre.

Ghost Stories starts off innocently enough with a series of slides that includes numbers (these are replicated within the walls of the Athenaeum itself) whose import will only be explained at the end of the show.

Steve Rodgers is at the lectern playing the avuncular Professor Goodman, a researcher into all manner of extraordinary happenings that can’t be explain by the usual laws of science and reasoning. He gives us a potted history of ghost tales through the ages, the quackery and fakes, the desire for humans to play with, and delight in, curiosities that don’t have easy explanations and our willingness to suspend disbelief.

After portentously setting the scene, Goodman introduces his case studies, three ‘percipients’ who have each encountered the paranormal. One by one, the bewildered men (played with gusto by Jay Laga’aia, Dary Brown, Nick Simpson-Deeks) relate their stories to the curious albeit skeptical Goodman.

Laga’aia’s character is a matter-of-fact nightwatchman doing his rounds. Brown is a nervy student on his drive home from a party. Simpson-Deeks is a pompous businessman waiting for the birth of his first child. All have little in common, except that each has borne witness to some kind of supernatural spectre.

This is where all the tropes of horror and ghost stories come together: a lone spotlight wavering uncertainly in the dark; poltergeist mischief; shadows and mist; things that go bump in the night and eerie music. All combine to make the audience titter nervously, scream or jolt in their seats.

The tension builds slowly, crescendoing to a jump scare in each of the three tales. Kudos to the production team for their attention to detail: the set, sound and lighting design are brilliantly conceived. With no interval, it’s a tightly narrated piece of theatre that titillates and shocks.

Read: Exhibition review: Bolder

There is a twist at the end, which offers another way of looking at what we’ve been presented with earlier and promises an even more troubling possibility involving Goodman, but this is one of those shows that needs to be seen without too much explanatory context.

Ghost Stories

Presented by Realscape Productions
Athenaeum Theatre
Producers: Amy Johnson and Nathan Alexander for Realscape Productions
Writers: Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman
Director: Jeremy Dyson, Sean Holmes and Andy Nyman
Associate Director: Richard Carroll
Production Design: Jon Bauser
Lighting Design: James Farncombe
Sound Design: Nick Manning
Special Effects: Scott Penrose

Original UK Produces: The Lyric Hammersmith
Cast: Steve Rodgers, Jay Laga’aia, Darcy Brown, Nick Simpson-Deeks, Matt Heyward

Tickets: from $44.95

Ghost Stories will be performed until 5 November in Melbourne before touring to Adelaide from 7 December.

Thuy On is Reviews Editor of ArtsHub and an arts journalist, critic and poet who’s written for a range of publications including The Guardian, The Saturday Paper, Sydney Review of Books, The Australian, The Age/SMH and Australian Book Review. She was the books editor of The Big issue for 8 years. Her first book, a collection of poetry called Turbulence, came out in 2020 and was published by University of Western Australia Press (UWAP). Her next collection, Decadence, was published in July 2022, also by UWAP. Twitter: @thuy_on