Jeremy Dyson is bringing his theatrical spooktacular Ghost Stories to York, fully aware of the city’s paranormal reputation.
Best known as one quarter of comedy legends the League Of Gentlemen, Jeremy has long been fascinated by the macabre and supernatural. And he’s already explored our city’s darker side.
“I’ve not done any of the ghost walks, but I have done the York Dungeon,” he told YorkMix.
“And off my own back when I was younger I went to visit the places that were supposed to be haunted. I used to have a book called Haunted Britain – a travelogue of haunted places, and it had loads in York.
“I definitely went to see all of those when I was a kid.”
He would jump at the chance to make a show set in York – but more of that later.
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Originally from Leeds, Jeremy ‘adores’ York and returns regularly. “It’s such a beautiful city and has only got more so over the past ten years,” he says.
“The city centre’s got that thing that so few others have where it’s kept all its charm and all its beauty, and yet has lots of modern things as well – you’ve got your lovely arts cinema.
“So I’m delighted that, of the Northern cities close to me the one we’re coming to is York.”
It will be the first time the city has experienced Ghost Stories when it plays at the Grand Opera House next week. This cult theatrical phenomenon arrives having terrified audiences across the globe.
With co-writer Andy Nyman, Jeremy created “the kind of show that we would have loved to have seen when we first knew each other – we met when we were 15.
“It was taking all the things that we love from horror movies and supernatural thrillers and putting them on stage.”
The night before the play’s premiere at the Liverpool Playhouse ten years ago last month, they had a wobble – spending all night rewriting it to intensify the terror. It certainly worked: the show has enjoyed extended West End runs, been performed around the world and was made into a film starring Martin Freeman in 2017.
“We love to be scared,” he says, by way of explanation for its success. “We love the mystery and the romance that you get with a ghost story. It’s very particular pleasure, but probably one of the oldest forms of stories there is.”
To keep audiences in suspense there are no trailers showing scenes from the show.
“We hate the fact that we live in times where everything’s spoiled for you before you’ve come to see it. You know, every trailer for every film generally gives you the whole thing.
“We do ask the audiences at the end of the end of the show to keep the secrets. And one of the amazing things is that after all this time, after 10 years, that it is generally the case.”
How scary is it? A cover warning says it’s only suitable for those aged 15 and over, but “even if you don’t normally like scary things or spooky things, it’s definitely worth going for the experience I would say. It is a great night out.”
Certainly Ghost Stories can prove an intense experience. On the third night of this tour, an ambulance was called to the theatre in Birmingham “because somebody had got a bit overexcited”.
When the same thing happened during the show’s first West End run, “Andy was taking photographs of it because he’s a shameless showman!”
Sharing the screams
Jeremy says he and his fellow League of Gentlemen – Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith – bonded over spooky stories, TV shows and films. One of their shared memories is watching Carry On Screaming on Bonfire Night in 1975.
The four of them “haven’t got anything official” planned in terms of a new show or series.
“There’s nothing on the horizon with all four of us together.
‘But we speak to each other all the time. We see each other all the time. So I’m sure somewhere down the line there’ll be something more.”
Considering York’s ghostly reputation – now with its own shop of spirits, the York Ghost Merchants – would Jeremy like to film something here?
I’d love to make something in York, I really would.
People have written things over the years, haven’t they – Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, that starts in York, in the Minster, with all things coming alive.
I would love to do something in York, if it came about, absolutely.
Now how can we make it happen?