When you’re warned before booking tickets that Ghost Stories “contains moments of extreme shock and tension” and that “those of a nervous disposition” are strongly advised “to think very seriously before attending,” you’re scared. Then, you’re informed that, once the show begins, you can’t leave the theatre (or at least if you do, there’s no re-admittance). By the time you take your seat? Your heart is beating with nervous anticipation and you’re starting to imagine there are all sort of spooky somethings beneath that seat that might jump out at you.
Setting the scene for the fear that follows, there’s a menacing thrumming hum in the background (a prelude to the effective use of unnerving sound used throughout to create fear and tension) as the show begins. Professor Goodman (Joshua Higgott) starts to deliver his lecture on the paranormal and says how just three stories he’s heard in his career have left him questioning whether ghosts and the supernatural are real. (Cue a large proportion of the audience grasping their partner’s hands or hiding behind their scarves.)
I won’t spoil the stories and the plots – or the fact that the spooky, scary and unexpected special-effects thrust upon you will set your spine tingling and make you scream (Yes, I did. More than once). But suffice to say that it’s all staged superbly (on an ever-revolving and transforming set) and acted expertly, so you’re totally absorbed in the scenes and immersed implicitly in what’s happening before your eyes.
Paul Hawkyard plays a brusque night watchman consumed by guilt at the fact he hasn’t visited his daughter with locked-in syndrome at hospital for five years. Gus Gorden is a nervous, jittery – then panicked – teenager who’s marooned in the mist in a broken-down car and Richard Sutton is a distracted and high-powered city worker who’s haunted in his unborn child’s nursery.
You’ll be tense, you’ll be entranced, you’ll scream and you’ll even laugh (though much of it will be nervous laughter after your embarrassment at screaming so loudly!) But if a night of excellent quality entertainment, well acted and excitingly staged, where you should expect the unexpected and prepare to be scared out of your wits, sounds like something you’ll enjoy, then be brave – and book for this scary crowd-pleaser. We’re glad we did.
Ghost Stories is on at the New Theatre Cardiff until 29 February. Book here: newtheatrecardiff.co.uk