Ghost Stories

Ghost Stories (or possibly Ghost Story) is a lost and long forgotten production which featured an original piece of writing by Alan Ayckbourn. It's existence only came to light during 2018 thanks to the Stephen Joseph Theatre's press officer Jeannie Swales.

The piece itself - and even the actual title of Alan Ayckbourn's contribution within it - has been lost with few details having been recorded; the playwright himself only has the vaguest memory of the production.

Ghost Stories was a late night event in the Studio at the Stephen Jospeh Theatre In The Round, Scarborough, during the 1989 / 90 winter season. It had just six performances on consecutive Fridays and Saturdays between 29 December 1989 and 13 January 1990 following the evening's performance of Alan Ayckbourn's revival of his classic play Absurd Person Singular.

It was advertised within the winter brochure as 'a short season of late-night readings of ghost stories in the studio theatre' but with no mention of Alan Ayckbourn's involvement. Confusingly, although the brochure advertises the evening as
Ghost Stories, within the diary section the piece is called Ghost Story.

The production apparently featured the actor Martin Sadler reading several ghost stories - sadly no record of which ghost stories comprised the evening or whether they altered with each presentation has survived. Each performance would end with Alan's own haunting contribution.

The theatre press officer, Jeannie Swales, recalls Alan's story featured a factory burning down - possibly as part of an insurance scam, killing a couple trapped inside. At the end of the evening, the ghosts in all their burnt glory materialised courtesy of a 'Pepper's Ghost' effect. The ghosts were played by Jeannie and the box office manager Joy Beadle.

Given the small space in the Studio, it appears it was quite an effort to create a 'Pepper's Ghost' which requires a large sheet of angled glass in order to produce the illusion of people and objects fading in and out of existence (one of the most famous uses of it is within Walt Disney theme parks in the 'ballroom' sequence of the
Haunted Mansion ride). Jeannie also recalls the effect wasn't terribly effective! The two 'ghosts' were required to wear an 'unpleasant' costume which gave the appearance of burnt and melted spectres.

Although it is only speculation, the Studio saw the world premiere of Stephen Mallatratt's famed adaptation of Susan Hill's
The Woman In Black in 1987. It is on record that Alan was inspired by this to write his own ghost story to match the success of The Woman In Black - which eventually appeared as Haunting Julia in 1994. It does not seem far-fetched to suggest that Ghost Stories was devised primarily to see whether a 'Pepper's Ghost' illusion could be created in the theatre's small studio space and perhaps incorporated into a play.

World Premiere (1989)

First performance: 29 December 1989
World premiere: 29 December 1989
Final performance: 13 January 1990
Venue: Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, Scarborough
Staging: End-stage

Director: Alan Ayckbourn
Martin Sadler
Jeannie Swales
Joy Beadle
Copyright: Simon Murgatroyd. Please do not reproduce without permission.