In 2023 Danny Robins asked the questions – do ghosts exist? And if not, why do we see them? 25,000 people at theatres across the country came to find out the answers, in the biggest live investigation into the paranormal ever. Now there is another chance to join Danny and his team of experts. He chats to Blackpool Social Club ahead of bringing Uncanny to the Grand Theatre.

Danny Robins is the creator of the hugely successful BBC Radio 4 podcasts and global hits, Uncanny, The Battersea Poltergeist and The Witch Farm, the BBC TV series Uncanny and the award-winning West End play 2:22 – A Ghost Story.

His latest show, Uncanny: I know what I saw, promises to be a terrifying and thought-provoking evening, featuring chilling real-life stories of the supernatural experienced by ordinary people from ordinary places, brought to life on stage through thrilling theatrical invention in a mix of projection, sound and spellbinding storytelling.

When did you first become interested in ghosts and the afterlife?

It’s something that has obsessed me since I was a kid. I used to hang out in the school library, poring over books like the Usborne World of the Unknown, staring at alleged photos of ghosts. I think part of it was because I was brought up an atheist, so I had an entirely belief-free childhood. I became fascinated by the idea that there might be something more out there. Some people would have found God, and I found ghosts – I was intrigued by the stories I heard that suggested that maybe there were things about our universe we don’t quite understand yet. As I’ve got older, I think the idea of an afterlife captivates me more and more. The paradox at the heart of ghost stories is that they are simultaneously scary and comforting; even the most frightening ghosts bring with them that amazing hopeful prospect that death is not the end; that those we have loved and lost might still be out there or that we may be able to communicate when we pass on. What an idea that is. Whether it really is possible is the big question, but it feels like something that is bloody well worth investigating. Now I’m in this amazing position where, thanks to Uncanny’s success, thousands of people send me stories of their potentially paranormal experiences. I feel very privileged – it’s my childhood dream come true.

Have you ever seen a ghost?

Never. I have spent most of my life desperately wanting to, but now I regularly interview people who believe they have, I often think, be careful what you wish for. To have one of these experiences is life-changing, both in terms of the level of fear it can create, but also in terms of the way it changes your whole concept of reality. I’m not quite sure I could cope with it!

What can you tell us about the stage show Uncanny, I Know What I Saw and what can audiences expect?

It’s definitely not your average live podcast where people sit around, recording a show in front of an audience. This is a truly theatrical experience, more akin to a stage production of The Woman in Black or my play 2:22 – A Ghost Story, in terms of our desire to deliver something that feels like a proper thrilling evening of spooky, theatrically exciting storytelling. I’ll be bringing two cases to life that have never been featured on the Uncanny podcast or TV series, scaring you with them using all the magic of the theatre, including an epic light and sound design, video projection, illusions and an amazing set.

The fact that we have been exposed to such factors as Covid, climate change and wars creeping ever closer to us in recent years has made us face the fact of our mortality in a way we probably haven’t since the Second World War.

The director, Sam Hodges, and I wanted to create something that feels like a truly magical night out. We’ll have two of our experts with us each night – one from Team Believer and one from Team Sceptic – exploring the cases and answering people’s questions and we’ll also be hearing ghost stories from the audience. I love these shows because it feels like a brilliant live version of the conversations I know people have after listening to the pod, trying to work out what went on in each case, sending me their questions and theories. I think whatever your view on that question “do ghosts exist?” you’ll be gripped and enthralled. It’s scary but not too scary. We even have lots of kids who have been to see it – I think this is a subject that grips everyone, young and old.

There seems to be a real appetite for the world of the paranormal and unexplained and your work seems to be reaching an ever-widening audience, known as the Uncanny Community – why do you think these stories are resonating with people now?

I think there is an enduring fascination with the paranormal. It’s not surprising really, it is the biggest question of all, isn’t it? What happens to us when we die? It’s what every religion ever founded has attempted to answer. But I agree that there is a particularly intense interest right now and the paranormal does seem to be being talked about in mainstream culture in a way it hasn’t for decades. I think there are definite reasons for that – the fact that we have been exposed to such factors as Covid, climate change and wars creeping ever closer to us in recent years has made us face the fact of our mortality in a way we probably haven’t since the Second World War. In the wake of both world wars, there was a huge boom of interest in the supernatural and I see that now too. When the world feels chaotic, uncertain, broken, scary, we go looking for another world outside of it. Ghosts, UFOs, Bigfoot, all of these strange mysteries, can be places where we lose ourselves, adventures that transport us outside our present reality, and the ultimate thrill is the possibility that it could all be true.

Can you tell us anything about the stories which will be investigated?

Yes, we explore two cases in the live show – one is an alleged poltergeist case set in in Kent about a young couple expecting their first child who are subject to some really terrifying incidents. It starts with eerie, unexplained footsteps in their flat and escalates to objects flying across rooms and even a frightening apparition. I’d say it’s one of the most intriguing cases we’ve explored. You’ll hear from the witnesses involved via video, and I’ll be bringing the story to life, recreating all the key moments in terrifying ways using the magic of theatre. The second case is scary too, but also deeply moving. It’s about a family in Wales who lose someone close to them and then seem to see them again, but it’s really not that comforting… Excitingly, since we talked about both of these cases on the first leg of the tour in the Autumn, we’ve dug out some new evidence and even a new witness so this second leg of the tour is a rebooted, revamped version of the show.

After all these investigations into the strange and unfamiliar, would you say you are now Team Believer or Team Sceptic?

I’m a sceptic who wants to believe. I feel like I am on a journey. I think if you listen to my first series I made about the paranormal, Haunted, you’ll hear a more sceptical me. Having been exposed to so many strange, unsettling, inexplicable stories now, including some really big, challenging cases like my two other BBC series The Battersea Poltergeist and The Witch Farm, I find it harder and harder to dismiss the idea that there is something strange going on here. I still haven’t had any experiences myself, but I find myself unable to come up with rational answers for what the witnesses I meet are telling me. That is the closest I will come to saying I believe. I’m a paranormal Indiana Jones, hunting the holy grail that is proof that all this is real.

Your show consciously appeals to both believers and non-believers, was that important to you?

It was. I think for too long any discussions about this subject were entirely segregated. Ghost hunting shows on TV preached to the converted, camping out in allegedly haunted castles, pubs and stately homes, getting mediums to channel spirits on demand, whilst on the other side of the fence, sceptics ruthlessly debunked the idea of ghosts without particularly taking the time to explore the individual stories of people who had had these experiences. I love the fact that the stories we feature on Uncanny force both sceptics and believers to challenge their stances.

We live in an era of division and argument, especially on social media. There is something quite refreshingly wonderful I think about listening without judgement, keeping an open mind and being prepared to change it.

Each case is an individual mystery, a puzzle to solve. If you are a sceptic, it’s a howdunnit – could it have been caused by environmental or psychological factors? And if you are a believer, it’s a whodunnit – who is the ghost and why are they haunting this place? But there is always enough doubt and uncertainty, enough twists in the tale, to keep you on your toes, uncertain of what really went on. I love the fact that both sides can enjoy these detective stories equally and am always touched by the respectful debate around it I see on social media. People agree to disagree – something very rare in this day and age. We live in an era of division and argument, especially on social media. There is something quite refreshingly wonderful I think about listening without judgement, keeping an open mind and being prepared to change it. I also think that between these two camps there is a very large group of people who are like me – not quite sure what they believe…

What are your plans for the future?

I’m loving this chance to tour the country with Uncanny, meeting fans and hopefully making some new ones. We also have the latest series of the podcast out at the moment, Uncanny USA, exploring some amazing stories from America for the first time ever and my play 2:22 – A Ghost Story is on all over the place this summer – a UK tour, a run in Dublin and another run in London’s West End. My book, Into the Uncanny, is also out now – it’s full of new cases that haven’t been used in the pod, on TV or on tour. Beyond that, I’ll be working on more TV projects, and I have a real ambition to write more supernatural drama. I’d love to take inspiration from the real-life stories I receive to create something new and thrilling for TV, film or stage. Hopefully, I’ll find some time to get writing on tour!

Uncanny: I know what I saw is at the Grand Theatre 17th June. Book here.

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