Friday, August 13, 2010

A Review of “Ghost Stories” – Duke of York Theatre

Before getting started on a recent West End play that we saw with a group of friends, I want to take a moment to highlight a very key difference between myself and Lily which might shed some light on how different we are from one another. Although she admits to believing in the possibility of existence of ghosts, she has no interest in them, generally views such topics as a waste of time and productivity and is not afraid of them. Alternatively, whereas I don’t believe in ghosts whatsoever and find their existence entirely implausible and based on ancient superstitions, I enjoy a good ghost story from time to time and, admittedly, but only occasionally, become unsettled or scared by them.

“Ghost Stories” which plays at the Duke of York through to November has received a lot of hype and mixed reviews. We haven’t been to a show in a while, so when my friend asked us if we were interested in going along with him, I answered without much thought or consideration, “Sure, why not”. Upon deliberation with Lily after the show, I agree that perhaps I should have curbed my enthusiasm a bit and thought it through before committing ourselves to what you will soon see as an endurance test for the disappointing and mundane.

It was only after seeing the show and doing some research that I found out the creative team behind “Ghost Stories” is actually accomplished enough to justify us having had higher expectations. Jeremy Dyson (of the acclaimed comedy, “The League of Gentlemen”) penning the play and Sean Holmes of the Royal Shakespeare Company taking the lead as Artistic Director were meant to be a dynamic duo on the stage. So perhaps the most frightening bit of the show was that these two experienced West Enders could produce something so painfully campy and overwhelmingly gimmicky, filled with the typical Hollywood conventions that have destroyed the modern horror genre, and have received so much publicity in the process.

To be fair to the set design, the mood started off nicely. The entire Duke of York Theatre, which we had been to before for another play, was entirely unrecognizable and completely transformed into an atmospheric, dark and creepy lecture hall for which the audience was meant to be an integral part. The use of sound and pitch was especially notable, unmatched by any other show I have seen thus far, and suited this type of performance very well. Where the performance fell short was with everything else.

The plot was thin, the development a bit convoluted, and the writing could have been tremendously improved. The story follows a lecture by a skeptic professor who studies the impact of supernatural folklore on the psychological experiences of people who encounter them. In fact, his lectures were the most interesting bits of the entire play and having learned a few interesting historical facts, intertwined with some watered down western philosophy and anecdotal psychological studies , I felt like I was sitting in a Berkeley lecture hall, only to be interrupted and annoyed every ten minutes by another poorly constructed ghost story. The three main tales had the potential to develop these intellectual themes further which would have enriched the overall story, but they were instead reduced to set around prolonged tension building with a jumpy and anticlimactic finale. I would not be at all surprised if this is adapted into another bad Hollywood horror flick in the next several years, resurrecting the careers of the likes of Freddie Prince Jr. and Sarah Michelle Gehlar. The twist at the end was a bit dramatic and overdone, seeming out of place for what was otherwise an incredibly slow and non-moving storyline. At that point, too little too late and nothing could have made up for the fact that, at moments, it was so boring I wanted to cry.   And although I caught her dozing off a couple of times, what was Lily's critique?  I quote, "It was just dumb."

To mix it up we tried a show that we had hoped would be a bit more light-hearted and entertaining, but for the moment I think I will stick to my heavier, moody West End plays. Overall though, a good night out with friends, so all was not lost.

In another update, it seems summer is now officially over in London. It was a good run with almost two and a half full months of dry, hot, and mostly sunny weather and you can’t really ask for much more. To be honest I welcome the cooler, fresher air and light rain at the moment as it means I don’t have to endure the sweltering heat of the morning and afternoon Tube commute. I’m sure that I will no doubt be eating my words in a few short months once the ice and freezing conditions take over the city.


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