Earlier this week, film studio Lionsgate released the first trailers for Ghost Stories, the Andy Nyman/Jeremy Dyson horror film adapted from their play of the same name. The trailer looks great, but for me it raises a question: can it possibly match my experience of the play?
That question isn’t entirely based on the respective quality of the scripts, or the disparity in viewer experience between stage and screen. No, the facet of the play the film cannot deign to match up to is that I spent a good third of the it dealing with the very real possibility that someone in the audience near me had fully shit themselves.
Let me explain.
Long before we started How to Survive, Joe and I went to watch Ghost Stories in London’s glittering West End. The show had seemingly been running indefinitely by this point, and had built up a decent word-of-mouth reputation, so as lovers of horror we thought it was high time we saw it.
Upon our arrival, we spied a Hitchcock-esque sign warning that there would be no re-admission once the show had begun – for any reason – in order to preserve the atmosphere within the theatre. We took our seats inside and the show began.
If you haven’t seen Ghost Stories (the play or the film) I won’t spoil it, but the story follows a sort of triptych structure, with each act building up to its respective big, scary moment. Following the dramatic, shocking conclusion of the second act, a man in the row in front of us promptly exited the auditorium in flagrant disregard to the aforementioned signs, only to return a number of minutes later, apparently unmolested by ushers.
The words on the sign rang around my head: no re-admission. There might even have been the caveat “under any circumstances”. By this point I was barely concentrating on the play, obsessed instead with this mystery man’s Lazarus-esque return from apparent theatrical suicide.
Then I noticed the smell. An acrid, burning stench. It was, unmistakably, bleach.
The cogs inside my mind began turning. Had this individual – who by the looks of things was on a date – gone to the toilet and, for some reason, spilled bleach on himself, bringing the smell back with him into the theatre on his clothes?
It was then that I remembered the big scare at the end of the second act, and I began to piece it together. A water-tight narrative formed in my head: my fellow audience member had obviously been so startled that he’d completely lost control of his bowels.
I continued tracing the threads: in desperation he’d fled to the toilets to deal with the situation, but the only cleaning product to hand was industrial-strength bleach. The logistics of the operation were terrifying, but what option did he have? Maybe this was his big chance with the girl he’d been chasing for years. Maybe she was a lifelong horror fan who wouldn’t want to leave the show. Maybe his future happiness depended on this very evening.
So he’d used the bleach, perhaps against his better judgement, on his soiled underwear and returned, explaining his plight to the ushers as he returned. Why else would they let him back in? I relayed the whole story to Joe, who had also noticed the smell and drawn the same – surely the only – conclusion. That must have been it. It had to be.
I was still running the ghastly story through my head, wondering how he must feel, what I might have done differently. By this point I was barely concentrating on the play, until a few minutes later a plot point centred around a character smelling bleach.
The theatre, it turned out, had been pumping the smell into the auditorium artificially as a way to immerse the audience – me, Joe and the mystery man included. The guy, it’s fair to say, almost certainly hadn’t shit himself. The whole psychodrama was, in all probability, a figment of my imagination. The rest of the evening played out without further incident, and I went home thinking about my indecent portrayal of a man innocently popping to the toilet, his only crime the disregard of a sternly worded sign.
Anyway, the trailer looks good. Watch it here.