Brighton Year-Round 2020
Ghost Stories, written by Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman who co-direct with Sean Holmes. Design by Jon Bausor, Lighting by James Farncombe, Sound by Nick Manning. Special Effects by Scott Penrose.
People keep stumbling past you in the dark, there’s a flash of curtain as another exits. With muffled apologies. That’s if there isn’t a screeching sound enveloping where you sit, scraping sound off the walls as lights flicker. Not all screams rise from the stage or rip through the sound system.
Welcome to Ghost Stories, written by Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman who co-direct along with Sean Holmes. And we’re at a fine rational lecture by Professor (of the Paranormal) Philip Goodman, played by Joshua Higgott, quite often to be seen in Almeida productions.
Higgott brings an airy rationality to his spooked subject on his lectern, bounding up from the stalls. There’s quizzes, in a way, slide-shows and curious photos, then there’s three stories he wants to tell, participants giving testimony. And there’s agogic hesitations, catches on words. What’s Goodman about?
There’s Paul Hawkyard’s Tony Matthews, jack-of-all-trades who lost a wife early and plucked sorrow from a later liaison. Tony’s doing his last shift at a warehouse before being replaced by a young Pole. Keeping the young man’s spirits up, lonely at another entrance, he plays radio, even porn in his little office, a lozenge of light where dark swims round him. Hawkyard – someone often seen in major avuncular roles (e.g. War Horse) – conveys bullish sense assailed by grainy panic, with a sublime rasp of fright, rising.
There’s student Simon Rifkind, Gus Gordon’s panicky eighteen-year-old off to a last pre-uni party in his parents’ car, never giving lifts. Making an impressive stage debut, Gordon’s rising tenor is a perfect analogue, stage car headlights blazing and swivelling: a small theatrical marvel.
There’s rare device in Richard Sutton’s go-getting asset-stripper Mike Priddle, his wife going for late first pregnancy on IVF, in an expensive hospital. Often seen in acid-etched roles, Sutton’s superb at conveying the show’s edgiest character in an inflected kick of arrogance: Priddle’s way of pinging emails off as he talks to Goodman, his constant self-interrupting is both deflection and – even now – profoundly unsympathetic coping mechanisms for a life hollowed long before it’s filled.
Designed by Jon Bausor there’s a special feel to each element: that bright cabin with a hint of doors and elements emerging as a warehouse is explored. That car, broken down. The nursery. And other vistas grainly realized. Lighting by James Farncombe is self-evidently crucial, sudden and illumining: not to mention frequent use of torches right in our eyes. You’d think we were the ghosts, not Professor Goodman’s audience. Sound by Nick Manning is full of sucking blasts wheezings of the Id and shrieks of the beyond even as you come in. Special Effects by Scott Penrose will remain special.
The direction’s expert, the plot immensely satisfying and deft, all actors compelling in their ordinariness crossed with extremes. Design, lighting, sound are exemplary. Special effects are stunning.
Should you wait to see what happens, and why? Well, don’t waste your ticket. It’s 90 minutes straight through. As someone whose father terrified a poltergeist by hurling his tin leg at it in 1953, I felt I owed it to my family. Stay to the end if you dare.