THE Grand Opera House, York, already has its own ghost, one said to call out the first name of a new member of staff in the quiet of the auditorium on first acquaintance.
No doubt that will intrigue Professor Goodman, ahead of the lecturer’s visit to the Cumberland Street theatre from March 10 to 14 as the investigative fulcrum of writer-directors Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson’s “supernatural sensation”, Ghost Stories, on its first national tour.
On the road since January 7 after completing its latest West End run at The Ambassadors Theatre, London, the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre production should feel at home in York, the self-proclaimed most haunted city in Europe.
What’s more, with the Grand Opera House’s proximity to the York Dungeon, “York’s scariest tourist attraction”, where better for Nyman and Dyson’s global hit to be spooking?
Premiered a decade ago and turned into a film too, Ghost Stories invites its captive audience to “enter a nightmarish world, full of thrilling twists and turns, where all your deepest fears and most disturbing thoughts are imagined live on stage”.
Expect a “fully sensory and electrifying encounter in the ultimate twisted love-letter to horror, a supernatural edge-of-your-seat theatrical experience like no other”, as Professor Goodman strives to prove the supernatural is “purely a trick of the mind” in the face of three stories that beg to differ.
“Ghost Stories has never really gone away, running in various incarnations since the original production a decade ago, going into the West End, then Canada, Moscow,” says co-writer Jeremy Dyson, best known for his work with those twisted humourists The League Of Gentlemen.
“It was done in Russian in Russia but we had to maintain that it was set in Britain because apparently no Russian is afraid of a ghost.”
The latest British incarnation opened at the Lyric Hammersmith last March, whereupon it was picked up by commercial producers keen to take it on the road. “We’d always wanted to do that but never been able to do so, even though we knew just how much people wanted to see it, but we were told it ‘wasn’t tourable’.”
Until now, until Jon Bausor came up with a design that could play both The Ambassadors Theatre and theatres around the country.
“He’s made it possible to squash the set into a van!” says Jeremy, who lives in Ilkley, by the way. “Each time we’ve staged the play, we’ve been able to solve another problem, get rid of another niggle, and finally we have the production that is totally to our satisfaction.
“The show’s been going down really well on tour, and it will fit perfectly into York with all its ghost stories and the York Dungeon opposite the Grand Opera House.”
Why are we so drawn to ghost stories, Jeremy? “I think there are lots of reasons,” he says. “One of them is obvious: death and the afterlife, which is a personal concern to all of us, and ghost stories are a way to approach such an overwhelming concern.
“That’s particularly so in our increasingly secular society, where there’s a hunger for the mysterious, the uncanny, the inexplicable, which once upon a time would have come under the auspices of the church and religion.
“That’s part of it, and also when it comes to a show like Ghost Stories, there’s the entertainment and the thrill, the fairground element.”
Nyman, London actor, director and writer, and Dyson, screen and stage writer and author, have been friends for a “very long time”. “Since we were teenagers, in fact,” says Jeremy. “We met when we were 15 and one of the things we bonded over was horror movies at the dawn of the video age, renting those films to watch them together.
“We’ve had our individual careers and we’d never thought of working together, but out of the blue Andy called me with this idea of having three men sitting telling ghost stories after he saw The Vagina Monologues [Eve Ensler’s show with three women telling stories].
“It was a very intriguing idea that was enough to hook me straightaway, though we then veered away from that initial construction over a long gestation period.
“Creating Ghost Stories was very much a case of sitting in a room together, talking about it for a year, and then getting together, bashing out the outline, working every day for a week, when we pretty much hammered it out, because we’d been thinking about it for so long.”
Ghost Stories has drawn comparisons with Stephen Mallatratt’s stage adaptation of Susan Hill’s The Woman In Black, premiered at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, in 1987 and still running in the West End, but Jeremy was keen that Ghost Stories should stand in its own right.
“We wanted very much to create a theatre experience that we hadn’t had before, in terms of being a very immersive piece of theatre, and we also like the challenge of taking things that you’re familiar thematically from horror films and seeing if we could transfer them to the stage.”
A further element is at play in Ghost Stories. “Andy and I both have a love of conjuring and magic; Andy has worked with Derren Brown for 20, so we wanted to build that into the show’s structure,” says Jeremy. “We wanted to look at how you can create a magical effect with a combination of storytelling and technology, and that’s what we’ve achieved.”
Ghost Stories promises “moments of extreme shock and tension” at the Grand Opera House, York, from March 10 to 14. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or at atgtickets.com/york. Unsuitable for anyone under 15 years old.
Copyright of The Press, York