‘A burning obsession with horror’: Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson on their play Ghost Stories

As Ghost Stories returns to terrify London audiences, and appears in print for the first time, its creators Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson explain how they came up with idea, and the inspirations they drew on.

Ghost Stories is a dream come true.

We met in 1981 at a Jewish summer camp called, appropriately enough, ‘Chai ’81’ (‘Chai’ being Hebrew for ‘life’). It was fate that threw together three kids from Leeds (including Dyson) and three kids from Leicester (including Nyman) into one cramped room for six. We were fifteen and within a couple of hours had discovered that we shared two mutual loves: dirty jokes and a burning obsession with Horror. We became best friends, and in the thirty-eight intervening years very little has changed.

Throughout our friendship we have constantly mused, ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful to actually work together?’, always meaning it, but somehow never quite finding the time. We’ve both remained busy, Jeremy as a writer and Andy as an actor. Our careers, and the practicalities of being freelancers with families, meant the realities of collaborating were beginning to feel like an impossible dream.

The Woman in Black at the Fortune Theatre

Then one day that all changed. Andy was in the West End of London and happened to walk past the Fortune Theatre, where The Woman in Black has been playing for almost thirty years. Andy was struck by a thought: how insane it was that there hadn’t been another horror play since that one had opened, almost as though such a thing wasn’t allowed.

Andy had also recently seen The Vagina Monologues in which the staging is remarkably simple – three women sit on three stools reading/performing the play directly from the script. The two experiences collided and Andy phoned Jeremy with this thought – ‘I think I know what we should work on together – a play, like The Vagina Monologues, but with ghost stories. Three men, sitting on three stools telling ghost stories.’ Jeremy loved the idea and we started to ponder.

The third essential cog in the machine was Sean Holmes. He and Andy had worked together on a play Andy had starred in (Moonlight and Magnolias by Ron Hutchinson); they’d loved working together and wanted to collaborate on something else. Andy casually mentioned the idea of the ghost-story play. A month later Sean became the Artistic Director of the Lyric Hammersmith, and his second phone call on his first day in the job was to Andy, to find out what was happening with ‘that ghost play’. A meeting was set for three days later.

Fortunately we’d been talking about it and thinking about it on and off for about a year, emailing each other fragments of our own writing and our favourite ghost stories by other people – so in some ways the earth had been tilled when we got together, prior to meeting Sean to draw up some rules of engagement:

  • It had to be contemporary, so that it was as different as possible from The Woman in Black.
  • It had to have a small cast to keep costs down.
  • It should only be ninety minutes without an interval to keep the tension high.
  • There should be no spoilers allowed at all, no plot given to press or indeed auditioning actors.

And finally, and most importantly:

  • It had to be as frightening as the best modern horror film, with full ‘leap out your seat’ scares.

On 27 January 2009, we had the meeting and, incredibly, Sean and the Lyric commissioned the play, with us set to direct.

We were both busy for about six months with our own various commitments, but set a time when we could get started properly. Then on 19 July we finally sat down with four clear days to scratch out something concrete. The script had to be delivered on 1 October. The first thing we did was put a large index card on the wall. It said simply ‘FUN’, and it acted as an essential reminder both that the play itself should be entertaining and enjoyable, but also that the creative process wasn’t to be some terrifying daunting task, but was built around the simple joy of two lifelong friends finally coming together to do what they had talked about doing for over thirty years.

We set out with one very simple premise: what was the play we would most want to see ourselves? We started talking about our favourite moments from horror films, what made us laugh, scream and jump; but we also discussed what were the most memorable and impactful moments of theatre we could remember. The aspiration was somehow to combine both.

Very quickly the wall filled up with random thoughts and ideas, all disconnected but all born from the same place.

As we started to sift and shift these ideas into categories and sections, we realised that the ‘three men telling three stories’ idea had somehow shifted itself into a stage version of a cinematic phenomenon we both adored: the portmanteau horror film.

Dead of Night (1945)

The incredible films of the production companies Amicus and Tigon in the 1970s, and their earlier 1940s Ealing Studios predecessor, Dead of Night, had shaped our childhoods – utterly British and yet fantastically global, full of deliciously playful scares that had creeped us out and stayed alive in our imaginations for decades. We knew, though, that we also wanted to craft a play that would deliver something of substance to an audience, some solid ground underneath the fun, that would leave a deeper, darker residue and be harder to shake off.

With that in mind, we asked each other a question: ‘Had you ever done anything in your life that you were truly ashamed of?’ The answers we gave would go on to shape both the individual stories and the overall plot in ways that were consistently surprising to us both.

* * *

Andy Nyman as Professor Phillip Goodman in Ghost Stories, 2010

Ghost Stories opened at the Liverpool Playhouse on 4 February 2010 before transferring to the Lyric Hammersmith, and we truly had no idea what to expect. By now Sean had come on board as a third director, bringing a wealth of experience to help guide us through the technical rehearsals and first previews.

When the audience screamed for the very first time, it was one of the greatest moments of our creative lives. Something so unique and very special.

West End promotional image for Ghost Stories, 2014

Wonderfully, the play performed to packed houses at the Lyric, and very swiftly transferred to the West End. It ran at the Duke of York’s Theatre for thirteen months – a fact that still makes us pinch ourselves.

Since then the show has been performed all over the world – Moscow, Sydney, Lima, Germany, Toronto, Shanghai, Norway, Finland and with many more international productions planned. We also adapted it for film, writing and directing it ourselves. It was released in cinemas in 2018 both in the UK and internationally to much critical acclaim. It also won us a Fangoria Chainsaw Award for Best First Feature – a fact that would have made our fifteen-year-old selves explode with delight.

And here we are now, 2019, with the revival of Ghost Stories about to open at the Lyric Hammersmith, the final show of Sean Holmes’s artistic directorship there. Like the best dreams, as one looks back and reflects on what has happened, it feels impossible, ungraspable. So many stars have to align to create anything, let alone something that lasts and is still a living, breathing thing almost a decade after it was first conceived. No small part of Ghost Stories success lies in the enthusiasm and individual brilliance of our fantastic creative team who threw themselves into the challenge of bringing it to life with a zeal that matched our own: Sean Holmes, designer Jon Bausor, lighting designer James Farncombe and sound designer Nick Manning.

It fills our hearts with joy that so many people have seen the show and kept its secrets.

We wish you the sweetest of dreams.

Garry Cooper as the Caretaker in the 2019 revival of Ghost Stories at the Lyric Hammersmith (photo by Chris Payne)


The above is an edited extract from the introduction to Ghost Stories the playscript by Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman, out this week (4 April 2019), published by Nick Hern Books. To buy your copy for £7.99 plus p&p (RRP £9.99), click here.

The play is at the Lyric Hammersmith until 11 May 2019 [extended until 18 May 2019].

Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson will be signing copies of the book at the Forbidden Planet London Megastore on Monday 8 April 2019, 6-7pm.

Author photo  by Dan Wooller.

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Everything That Went Into Writing My New Book (But Were Too Polite to Ask, Dear)

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the West End…

The masked man of Theatreland has returned. West End Producer’s new book is the ultimate guide to theatregoing, full of the hilarious advice and insight he’s become known for. Here, WEP reveals the blood, sweat and Dom Pérignon that went into writing his must-have theatrical masterpiece, and why the perils of going to the theatre means it’s a vital addition to your library…

Back in 2013, the lovely people at Nick Hern Books published my definitive guide to acting – Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Acting (But Were Afraid to Ask, Dear) – filled with invaluable information about training, performing, bowing correctly, and how to get ahead in showbusiness. It was a marvellous success, which made me feel all warm and bubbly inside – the same feeling I get after a particularly tasty bottle of Dom.

But then came the inevitable question: what next? Having conquered the literary world, I knew I wanted to write another essential theatrical tome – but how to overcome the ‘difficult second book syndrome’, and avoid penning a Love Never Dies to my Phantom of the Opera?

West End Producer, struggling for inspiration in his surprisingly smoky study 
(Photograph © Matt Crockett)

Then, one evening, towards the end of a particularly lengthy walk on Hampstead Heath listening to Elaine Paige warbling on my pocket gramophone (the iGram), I suddenly felt inspiration begin to stir and swell deep within me. And so I rushed home, drew the curtains in my mahogany-clad study, and started fingering my keyboard with vigour.

For a long time, I’d wanted to write a book about how to get theatregoing just right (a Goldilocks guide to the West End, if you will). It would be a practical manual covering absolutely everything – how to see the hits and not the shits, how to avoid neck pain and deep vein thrombosis in the balcony, and how to save precious pennies on tickets, so you can afford the overpriced interval drinks and souvenir programmes instead.

After all, going to the theatre is a richly rewarding but potentially perilous activity that can take months of planning to get right. The consequences of being ill-prepared can make even the most confident theatregoer feel like a floppy theatre virgin. There are just so many things to consider: how do you choose what to see? How do you avoid getting lost and ending up at Buckingham Palace instead of the Palace Theatre? How do you find your way to your seat without treading on an unsuspecting OAP? What’s the correct level of applause if you only mildly enjoyed the show? These questions, and many more besides, finally needed answering.

This is not Buckingham Palace, dear. (Photograph © Nigel Howard)

The result is my new book: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Going to the Theatre (But Were Too Sloshed to Ask, Dear) – which, reading it back now, really is a bloody long title. It’s taken a full four years to get it finished, but this couldn’t be helped. It’s hard to find the time to write in between going to press nights, disciplining actors, producing shows, and cuddling up with my Miss Saigon blow-up doll.

I also found this book a little more challenging to write than my first book, as it required extra research. I had to brush up on my knowledge of theatrical terms (dozens of which are explained in the book). I also attempted to use lots of words that contained eight or more letters – for example: proscenium, cyclorama, and shinging (shit singing) – and learn the names of every single theatre in the West End and beyond. Which takes rather a long time, especially as they keep insisting on building more of the bloody things.

As well as the wide-ranging West End knowledge and advice outlined above, I also wanted to have a little look at some of the greatest shows to have ever hit Theatreland – so scattered throughout the book, like used show-pants in Soho, are potted histories of some our most legendary musicals, plus suggested future casting and details of songs that didn’t quite make the cut (such a shame audiences at Cats were denied the pleasures of ‘God, I Have Another Furball’).

Elaine Page as Grizabella in Cats – other rejected songs included ‘Anyone Got Some Tuna?’ and
‘If I Can’t Find the Litter Tray (I’m Going to Pee in the Stalls)’

It also contains some of my most deliciously naughty-but-true tweets  – because over sixty thousand Twitter followers can’t be wrong….

When reading my book you will learn how to become one of my Theatre Prefects: protecting theatres from phone-users, snorers, and persistent latecomers. With you, my dear readers, forming an army of Prefects parading around theatres up and down the country, we may together finally be able to ‘Make Theatre Great Again’!

Anyhow, I hope you enjoy my new book. It will entertain, enlighten and excite even the most novice theatre spectator – and put the spice back into the theatregoing relationship of the most jaded regular. It’s the perfect present for anyone in your life (Father Christmas himself said so, dear).

So sit back, get yourself into something comfy, and prepare to find out everything you always wanted to know about going to the theatre.


Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Going to the Theatre (But Were Too Sloshed to Ask, Dear) by West End Producer is out now, published by Nick Hern Books.

Buy your copy for just £8.79 (20% discount) from the Nick Hern Books website. All customers who purchase their book directly from NHB will also receive a free ‘Theatre Prefect’ badge.

Author photograph by Matt Crockett.

With a little help from my friends: Amelia Bullmore on her play Di and Viv and Rose

Actress and playwright Amelia Bullmore had a West End hit earlier this year with Di and Viv and Rose, a warm and funny play about three women and their enduring friendship. As the play is made available for amateur performance, she recalls the moment that inspired her to write it, and explains why, for her, it’s a story that can only work on stage.

I decided to write Di and Viv and Rose in 2009 when I saw a woman’s calves that were just like the calves of a friend, Anne, who I hadn’t seen for months. The lurch of longing to see her (prompted by the calves) was so strong that, later, I thought: I’d like to try and catch that in a play.

I was acting in a production of Alan Ayckbourn’s The Norman Conquests that transferred from London to Broadway. I’d agonised about going (could I possibly abandon ship for four months?) and made a hash of deciding – telling my family that I definitely wouldn’t go and then realising I definitely had to. I made a calendar showing when they could visit me, in half terms and holidays, and when I’d visit home (all the actors in the production had young children so the performances were cannily scheduled to allow us two mini-trips back). It was an unforgettably good adventure.

Tamzin Outhwaite, Samantha Spiro and Jenna Russell in the West End production of Di and Viv and Rose, 2015

Tamzin Outhwaite, Samantha Spiro and Jenna Russell in the West End production of Di and Viv and Rose, 2015

The calves I saw that were like Anne’s were in New York. They didn’t even belong to a stranger. Their owner was a woman I was working with and had arranged to meet. Regardless of this, my brain dream-ishly converted her into Anne and my chest duly lurched. I’d been braced for missing my family while I was away but hadn’t bargained on just how powerfully I’d miss friends.

I began to think about trying to catch the ardour of female friendship and also to wonder how I might catch the quality of enduring friendship. Thirty-odd years in two hours. When the thing you want to say is so obvious – Friendship is a Good Idea – you’d better say it entertainingly. The good news is, entertainment sits naturally in every friendship worth its salt.

I went to visit a friend in Liverpool not long ago. She said she’d meet me off the train at Lime Street station but I couldn’t see her in the crowd on the concourse. I skated my eyes past a couple locked in a passionate embrace – give the lovers some privacy – but then stole another look and realised it was my friend hungrily kissing a life-sized statue of Ken Dodd. For a joke. For my delight. I laughed my head off. I laugh now when I think about it. Sometimes, on my way to see a friend, I’m close to laughing in anticipation of the laughing I know we’re going to do. (Before I go on I want to say that I sometimes recognise the person I’ve arranged to meet more or less instantly. I should also say that my eyesight’s not great).

Gina McKee, Tamzin Outhwaite and Anna Maxwell Martin in the Hampstead Theatre production, 2013

Gina McKee, Tamzin Outhwaite and Anna Maxwell Martin in the Hampstead Theatre production, 2013 (Tristram Kenton)

Delight isn’t the only thing friends exchange, of course: anguish, doubts, bulletins and beefs are traded too. There are some gloriously talkative men about but my hunch is that women are more likely to have grown up being told stories, often by women, about other peoples’ lives – neighbours, relatives, friends of friends – and are more likely to thrive on the continued collecting and sharing of these stories. Given that we’re all cruising or hurtling towards our doom (and we don’t know which) it’s a source of comfort and diversion to be tuned into hundreds of other peoples’ trips, past and present. Small stories, but in aggregate, a vast database of how life can be lived. I know stories about my friends’ cousins. People I’ll never meet. I find that entirely worthwhile.

The recruiting of a friend – that period of enchantment and first exchanging of stories – needed to be in the play I wanted to write, I decided. As did the particular potency of friendships made when you first leave home: ‘second family’ friendships. The first time you rely on people you’ve chosen, rather than people you’ve been dealt and who’ve been dealt you. These intense young friendships are ones in which almost every kind of loving impulse can be played out – worship, protection, guidance and encouragement as well as the darker impulses to quash and control.

Anna Maxwell Martin, Gina McKee and Tamzin Outhwaite in the Hampstead Theatre production

Anna Maxwell Martin, Gina McKee and Tamzin Outhwaite in the Hampstead Theatre production, 2013

Although the play begins with the characters, aged eighteen, at university, sharing a house, I didn’t want the actresses playing them to be eighteen. The actresses are the age their characters are at the end of their story. They report back from middle age to be their young selves. I’ve been asked if I’d like to adapt Di and Viv and Rose for television or to write it as a film but in my mind it’s a play, and a play only, because of this conceit. Not just because in a theatre an audience is likelier to make the leap of belief – that these women are girls – but also because my experience of growing older is that you are the same but different. You are the girl and the woman. You don’t so much shed as keep on adding. If you age at roughly the same rate as your friends, you don’t only feel largely the same, but also (almost) appear to each other as largely the same. The other reason why it’s a play and a play only for me is that what the audience witnesses, live – the feat of joint endeavour – is what it’s about.

Since its original run at Hampstead Theatre, Di and Viv and Rose has since been picked up by A-level drama students – real 18-year-olds – who have to think themselves older as the play unfolds. There’s no time for wigs or latex. Everyone’s too busy running around backstage fetching bicycles and tearing costumes on and off.

Publicity image for the Hampstead Theatre production, 2013

Publicity image for the Hampstead Theatre production, 2013

I couldn’t have written this play without my female friends. I don’t mean that I consulted them. I mean that they run through it. Things they’ve said. Things they’ve shown and taught me. No particular real friend is portrayed in the play. Even if I’d wanted to plug in a real person (which I emphatically didn’t), real people are no use. You have to fashion characters who’ll give you the specific kinks and tussles you need in order to write the story that says what you want to say. It’s the same with real events, although a crumb of partial knowledge (one of those stories heard, maybe) can be what you choose to invent around, according to your design. I don’t mean don’t research facts, by the way. Definitely research facts.

The continuum of mutual, intimate knowledge is a valuable thing. When you ask after an old friend’s mum or dad – a mum or a dad who, long ago, made you up a bed on the family sofa or chatted with you or ran you to the station – that’s an informed enquiry. It has weight for both the asker and the asked because it has context. In mid-life, this continuum’s especially consoling because, glancing either forwards or back, you’re likely to notice people you love heading towards departures of one kind or another. And if you were ever in any doubt about the commonplace brutality of luck and lack of it, enduring friendship lays that bare, too. I’ve got a friend I used to be put in a cot with, fifty years ago. I’ve got friends who didn’t make it to fifty. I’ve got friends who go from strength to strength. I’ve got friends who are terribly ill. That’s life. All I’m saying is, don’t attempt it alone.

Tamara von Werthern

Here are a few words from NHB’s Performing Rights Manager, Tamara von Werthern…

Di and Viv and Rose is a gift for any theatre company looking for a play with substantial roles for women. It’s such a wonderful, heart-warming tale of friendship lasting throughout three women’s lives, great fun to perform and great fun to watch. If you have previously enjoyed performing Ladies’ Day, Be My Baby or Little Gem, then Di and Viv and Rose will be for you. And if there are three wonderful women in their mid-thirties to late forties who happen to be part of your theatre company, they’ll thank you for giving them these wonderful characters to play.”


This article was originally published in The Independent. Di and Viv and Rose by Amelia Bullmore is published by Bloomsbury Methuen Drama.

To apply for amateur performing rights, visit the Nick Hern Books Plays to Perform website or contact our Performing Rights Manager.