As Lyric Hammersmith hit Ghost Stories brings frights, scares and nervous laughter to the West End, The League Of Gentlemen’s Jeremy Dyson, who created the play with performer Andy Nyman, shares his experiences with Official London Theatre…
Ghost Stories began with one simple aim. Andy and myself wanted to make the creepy, thrilling stage show we’d both dreamed of seeing since we were kids. Firstly, it had to be entertaining. We both adore theatre but hate it when it’s boring. Secondly, it had to have some substance to it. From a literary point of view the supernatural is a powerful and fascinating trope, which enables the writer to mine aspects of the human condition and psyche in a truly visceral way. Thirdly, the play had to be scary. We wanted to hear our audience screaming.
There were numerous challenges bringing Ghost Stories to the stage and Andy and I relished every single one of them. Personally speaking this was the most fun I’d had creatively since the early days of The League Of Gentlemen. We were gifted with the most fantastic creative team: brilliant designer Jon Bauser, equally brilliant lighting and sound designers in James Farncombe and Nick Manning. No matter what we threw at them they never blinked once. The biggest difficulty we faced was making it scary. We’d quite deliberately given ourselves this obligation by pre-selling the show on the promise of it being frightening. Right up to the first performance we had no idea if we would pull it off. When co-director Sean Holmes and I got our first scream on the opening night in Liverpool we hugged each other like overexcited schoolgirls.
There was a lot of serendipity in the rehearsal process. Many of the show’s key moments were found in the studio at the Lyric, and later rehearsing on stage in Liverpool; we were lucky to be able to get a full week on stage before we had to begin technical rehearsals. Our cast were just as into it as we were and brought the fullness of their own creativity to bear. David Cardy’s mastery of the dramatic use of a torch-beam is a thing to behold!
Gradually the thing took on a life of its own. It seemed to occupy and overtake whatever space we put it in, creeping beyond the boundaries of the proscenium and even the auditorium. Yes, we’d written it this way – incorporating descriptions of how we wanted the front of house dressed into the first paragraph of the stage directions – but we hadn’t anticipated what this would actually feel like. Plus the design team had taken these vague suggestions and poured their own madness into them, much to mine and Andy’s delight.
Most exciting of all was the response of the audience. From the first night in Liverpool it was evident they were up for it, becoming active participants in the whole experience. Rather than sitting there with their arms cynically crossed saying ‘Go on then – scare me’, as we feared they might do, they seemed to be only too happy to join in the fun, not withholding their responses but willingly sharing them with each other, jumping, screaming, even commenting on the action out loud.
Ultimately this is the most gratifying aspect of the Ghost Stories experience thus far. Andy and I began by pleasing ourselves and in doing so have found an audience we hadn’t anticipated. The first thing we did when we started writing was stick a piece of paper on the wall with one word written on it. That word was ‘fun’; it might be one of the most underrated yet most important aspects of life in general.
Co-writer/Co-director Ghost Stories