BEREAVEMENT is something that touches everyone – and that probably accounts for at least part of the huge popularity of Ghost.
The 1990 movie starring Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore was an Oscar-winning blockbuster and now Ghost The Musical is taking the stage by storm.
Director of the musical version, Matthew Warchus, says the story’s ability to tap into everyman’s experience of bereavement and of the realisation of one’s own mortality was one of the reasons he wanted to take on the project.
“Ghost The Musical is a courageous attempt to open up a universal subject which everyone tries to avoid,” he says. “I don’t want to sound pompous but I do believe that one of the purposes of fiction is to provide, if not some kind of healing process, then at least something which can throw a lifeline to us.
“Having all gone through the experience of watching Ghost The Musical as a group, we, the audience, come out at the end of the performance, feeling better.”
The musical tells the same story as the movie about the ghost of a murdered man, Sam (played on stage by Stewart Clarke, right), teaming up with a psychic to avenge his death and resolve matters with his fiancé, Molly (Rebecca Trehearn, also right) – but with added songs of course.
It is a sad irony that Warchus himself suffered a personal bereavement while working on the production.
“My father died during rehearsals for Ghost and so it was the first of my productions which he didn’t see and the first which my mother saw without him,” he recalls sadly.
“I felt that I was personally experiencing the interface between the story of Ghost The Musical and an audience’s engagement with it. I was discovering at first hand how valuable the story was in dealing with questions of separation and loss. Yet working on the show again, it feels very uplifting and enjoyable. I’m struck again by the beauty of the ending and by the sincerity with which the love is portrayed and I hope that the show comes across to an audience as a story that is emotional but not sentimental.”
But it has taken a long time for Warchus to get Ghost The Musical to the stage – not least because of the problems of getting a ghost to appear in front of an audience.
He worked with long-time colleague illusionist Paul Kieve to get the special effects he wanted.
“We discussed where the magic moments were in the script and what I wanted from them,” says Warchus. “For example, I felt that it was important that Sam saw his own body after his death.
“The illusions I wanted to appear at the moments of most emotion and I didn’t want the audience to applaud them. Instead, I wanted the audience to cry, an emotion caused by the skill of the illusion.”
There are also laughs as well as tears and one of the reasons for the show’s popularity is undoubtedly the character of Oda Mae Brown, the phoney psychic played by Wendy Mae Brown who discovers to her surprise that she has special powers, after all.
“One of the brilliant things about the story is the creation of Oda Mae,” argues Warchus. “Oda Mae provides the solution but it’s a lovely twist to have a psychic who knows she’s a fraud. She provides what I think the Americans call a treacle-cutter, where a sincere line is followed by a comic one – a zinger.
“Oda Mae acts as a counterweight to the darkness of the story and as a character, she is solid gold and she takes the audience to the end of the story, through its tears.”
Ghost The Musical is running at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking, until Saturday, November 23.