Review: Ghost Stories (Mirvish)


Lyric Hammersmith, Phil Mcintyre Entertainments and David Mirvish present the North American premiere of Ghost Stories by Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman at Toronto’s Panasonic Theatre. Now booking through May 8, 2011.

For the past few weeks I’ve watched with “morbid” curiosity as, seemingly from way out of left field, Mirvish announced that it would present a North American premiere production of Ghost Stories, a quirky show from the UK, and then rolled it out complete with a horror movie-style ad campaign.

A commercial theatre producer I spoke with recently flat-out told me, “Mirvish doesn’t know how to market shows. They rely too much on their subscriber base and don’t know how to attract new audiences. They’re just tapping the same set of customers over and over.” (editors note: check out the comment section below for the detailed and helpful Mirvish response to this statement)

He may have had a point. I’ve heard it said that your average patron for a commercial theatre production is a middle-aged, white, suburban woman. That may be the demographic Mirvish traditionally targets with its programming but I’d assume it couldn’t rely too heavily on its existing subscriber base for this show.

Ghost Stories targets the younger demographic who’d go to horror movies and it seems Mirvish’s marketing firm has been working overtime for this show. The style and tone of the advertising is textbook “scary movie” right down to a trailer showing audience members squirming in their seats. Even the show’s tag line “Are you brave enough?” sounds like a double-dog dare.

Other examples of the creative marketing for the show include lamppost ad banners strategically placed along the stretch of Yonge Street adjacent to Mt. Pleasant Cemetery (co-incidence? I think not) and the Ghost Stories Film Festival of Frights where Mirvish leveraged social media platforms to engage fans to nominate and vote for their favourite scary movies to be shown at the festival.

Then, of course, there was the wacky promotion to spend the night sleeping in a coffin in the theatre to win a trip as well as promotional partnerships with youth-oriented brands like Virgin Radio and Cineplex’s Scene program. There’s even a Ghost Stories-branded promotional tie-in Jones Soda for sale at the theatre concessions! All these signs point to the fact that this is not a show you’d typically expect Mirvish to present.

If nothing else, it’s refreshing to see that Mirvish is at least willing to try reaching out to new audiences in unconventional ways. Maybe the recent dose of healthy competition from Dancap is actually forcing Mirvish to be a little more daring with its programming.

As for the show itself; those of us who’ve seen it are asked not to reveal too many details about the contents for fear of spoiling the element of surprise but I will say that I think it really delivers on its promise of scary movie-style fun.

The all-Canadian cast features Darrin Baker, Jason Blicker, Jack Langedijk, David Reale, Greg Gale and Jonathan Purdon.

Blicker plays Professor Philip Goodman, an expert on the paranormal. As an overarching premise for the play, he addresses the audience directly as if he were giving an academic lecture on his investigations of ghostly phenomena. His taped interviews with “percipients” (those who believe they’ve perceived paranormal activity) segue into the series of ghost stories that make up the show.

The show transfers relatively well to a North American setting although my show-going companion Megan thought that some of the script re-writes to incorporate Canadian references were a little too obvious, to the point of being pandering. I agreed that Jack Langedijk’s night watchman character was so much of a Canadian “hoser” caricature he wouldn’t have felt out of place in an SCTV sketch alongside Bob and Doug McKenzie.

So, was the show actually scary? Well, It’s definitely suspenseful. I’ll admit that my heart was racing and a few moments definitely made me jump. The tone of the dialogue is often funny; the show effectively uses humour to cut through the moments of tension. I also really got a kick out of the reactions of other audience members; I spent a lot of time giggling when people around me freaked-out.

The squeamish among you who are put-off by the sight of blood and guts need not worry; the show is not a Saw-style gore-fest. Its brand of horror is more similar to suspense-thrillers like Paranormal Activity; a lot of it is psychological.

Overall, Ghost Stories is a lot of fun. Alternately scary and funny, the show has all the elements of a good horror movie and if you’re a fan of the genre, you owe it to yourself to see this “live action” horror movie. You’ll laugh, you’ll jump, you’ll scream; it makes for a great night out.

 

Details:

  • GHOST STORIES, written by Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman, and directed by Jeremy Dyson, Sean Holmes and Andy Nyman.
  • Panasonic Theatre, 651 Yonge St., Toronto
  • Now booking until May 8, 2011
  • Performance Schedule: Tuesday to Friday at 7:30 PM; Saturday 5 & 8:30 PM; Sunday 3 PM – some weeks have either a Wednesday matinee at 1:30 PM or a Sunday evening at 7 PM (check with website for weekly schedule)
  • 80 minutes, no intermission
  • www.ghoststoriestoronto.com
  • Tickets: $25 to $79
  • www.mirvish.com or call Ticketking at 416-872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333
  • $25 Lottery Scream Seats: Eighteen seats are available daily, for all performances, at $25 each (cash only), by lottery. Patrons can enter the lottery two hours prior to the performance, with a limit of one lottery entry per person.

Photo credit:

 

Jack Langedijk in the North American premiere of Ghost Stories. Photo Credit: Mirvish Productions

11 thoughts on “Review: Ghost Stories (Mirvish)”

  1. Funny how they are trying to reach out to younger audiences, yet the one member of my family whose eye this caught was my aunt; a middle-aged, working suburban mom, not a Mirvish subscriber.

  2. Our friends at Mirvish were kind enough to respond to my review with a few of their own points:

    Here are the stats:

    – We sell between 2 and 2.5 million tickets per year — by far more than any other organization in Canada.  Of these, only 40,000 are subscribers (approx 10% of the overall annual sales and attendance).  The remainder are single-ticket buyers (approx 80%) or attend in groups (approx (10%)

    – The number one reason people purchase tickets to a show is subject matter. For a show such as ROCK OF AGES, more than 70% of ticket-buyers had never purchased a ticket from us before.  The majority of this audience segment had also never before attended a professional theatre production.

    – Because we now have four very different theatres to programme, we have to be very flexible and open to all kinds of subject matter.  We have produced everything from modern dance to classical tragedy.  We have presented shows from Korea (in Korean) and shows from Berlin (in German).  We have presented shows with broad appeal and shows for a specific, limited audience.  Some shows have attracted audiences in narrow age ranges (RENT, for instance, played to audiences predominantly under 40) and others have played to large numbers of people from age 4 to 100 (SOUND OF MUSIC, as an example).

    – We use a wide variety of media to promote our shows and an even wider variety of promotional activities.  For WE WILL ROCK YOU we had promotions with so many different partners, we had to keep a log of all the various ideas so that we did not repeat ourselves. For FORUM we had toga parties. For MEDEA we had mixology classes for the creation of various cocktails using mock blood (tomato juice). For DIRTY DANCING we stopped traffic and had the actors playing Johnny and Baby perform the iconic “lift” in the middle of Yonge and Dundas.  For SOUND OF MUSIC we had a gathering of people in nun habits at Nathan Phillips Square.  We’ve partnered funeral homes and KFC outlets, LCBO locations and organic baby food purveyors.  For SECRET GARDEN we distributed 30,000 copies of the classic novel on the streets of Toronto.  We’ve had people wear pink tutus and we’ve organized a performance of BLOOD BROTHERS in which the entire audience consisted of identical twins in identical outfits.  Everything and anything is considered.

    In short, there is nothing uniform about how we market a show.  We always begin with discovering and exploring what the show is about, its themes and its point of view.  We then  fashion a plan that we hope services the show and its content, letting that drive our marketing ideas.  In these ways we hope to be able to connect with as large and appropriate an audience for each show as we possibly can.

  3. Are you serious??? THis show was a joke–not scary at all. DO NOT WASTE MONEY ON THIS SHOW! “Goosebumps” is scarier….

  4. I think it depends what you go in looking for/expecting.

    There were totally people in there looking to be scared and have fun, and they were.

    I went in hoping to not be too scared, because I’m not a fan of getting scared, and I managed to not be too scared.

    If you go in looking to debunk it, you’ll be able to debunk it, for sure. But if you go in suspending disbelief and ready to let yourself get into it then it’s scary.

  5. Went to the show on April 29th. Did not know what to expect other than waiting to be scared. The show is not at all scary. Its more on the funny side. I think its branded wrong. It is a tale about ghosts with some characters re-telling their experience. Good acting, awesome decors and a good night out. Not as grandiose as advertised, but a fun 90 minutes. No bad seats in the house, so price your tickets carefully. Neat that you can bring your popcorn and beverage in the theatre.

  6. This show is highly over rated. Way over priced for an 80 min play. NOT SCARY AT ALL. Save your money !!!

  7. Just saw this show today. I was hoping to be frightened, but was not. This show is more funny than scary. Storytelling was on the boring side and way too long. Me thinks I payed too much for this show!

  8. I saw this show this weekend. There are a few moments where you’re more startled than scared…but no real frights. It wasn’t scary, but it was entertaining enough and the acting was good.

  9. Just saw this tonight. Was terrible. Just loud noise and a few bright lights. REALLY poor. Would only recommend as a freebie, but dont waste your money. It hype and nonsense.

  10. Saw the final show today. Definitely the worst show i’ve seen. My girlfriends father likened it to a high school play with a huge effect budget. No originality whatsoever in the story line. I was surprised that Mirvish allowed this nonsense to attach itself the their name. I’m a huge fan of horror, as well as theatre, and I was extremely disappointed in this. if i didn’t know better I’d try and get my money back. 0/10

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