Sydney Ghost Stories is a collection of plays from creative producer Katy Alexander written by six of Australia’s most celebrated and up and coming playwrights: Rebecca Clarke, Verity Laughton, Tobsha Learner, Lachlan Philpott, Toby Schmitz, Stephen Sewell. This collection according to the program notes, started off as a “bare bones” production harking back to the “round the campfire” setting. And from this beginning point it has blossomed into the production that is now playing.

I frighten easilly- and sincerely and deeply ( I am also quick to laugh and will also cry when something is beautiful or poignant- so I am a very soft touch)… and I don’t like scarey movies – they will leave me sleepless and feeling sick… Also I was the woman who screamed loudly on the opening night of Shining City at the ending… so I was somewhat reserved about attending Sydney Ghost Stories. However- there was absolutely no need to be.

The long-time tradition of telling ghost stories relies on low level lighting, a seriousness to the tale (as it is often cautionary), also a willingness for the listener to believe… unfortunately not all the pieces contained these three elements. As plays- stories within themselves- as plays- there was some excellent work- some great moments from the acting ensemble, the writers and a clarity from the directors- but did this work as Ghost Stories? Short answer “no.”

Perhaps the most surprising and truthful ghost story of the evening was introduction by Jamie McGregor- giving the audience exactly what they were after- an old fashioned thrill. The story of the Old Fitz ghost, the history of the pub etc- was extremely interesting and spooky- but the other shows weren’t.Perhaps because the shows were delivered very much as “texts”- as performance pieces- with jerky hissing from the smoke machine- the impressively complex and stylish costumes courtesy of Gallery Serpentine- the bold print of the newspaper print on the back wall of the theatre with “spooky headlines.” Unfortunately this distracted me from the stories- which seemed to center primarilly around Real Estate agents and a feeling like “something sitting on my chest.”

I started to think mid way through that perhaps this production could have have benefitted from less of the “play” style and more of the monologue or direct address style? Or perhaps if the stories had specific local significance? Or perhaps if the stories of the Old Fitz were re-imagined for us? For this truly is an excellent idea- a great concept and will be sure to attract alot of punters- but it is not really what it advertises to be.

Sydney Ghost Stories is nor really what it says it is: more Australian plays about intuition and secrets- which isn’t as catchy, really is it?

However- I think this is a great idea- and I really applaud TRS, Stories Like These and Picture This Productions for mounting these 6 writers in a suite of plays – all new work is important and interesting (and seasons of shorts offer something for everyone). Perhaps next time, Sydney Ghost Stories 2 should be produced in 2010 as a late, late Session- with nothing but torches and monologues in true “ghost story” style?

Sydney Ghost Stories
written by Lachlan Philpott, Rebecca Clarke, Stephen Sewell, Tobsha Learner, Toby Schmitz, Verity Laughton
Directors Katy Alexander, Dean Carey, Glenn Fraser,Toby Schmitz, Anthony Skuse
Venue: Tamarama Rock Surfers at The Old Fitzroy Theatre | cnr Cathedral & Dowling Sts Wooloomooloo
Dates: Nov 25 – Dec 20, 2009