London Horror Festival: Behind The Scenes

The London Horror Festival 2019 kicks off in just a week’s time, on Tuesday 8th October.  Ahead of all the festivities, we were lucky enough to spend some time with 3 of the companies that have shows coming up, who told us a little more about what you might expect, and how their incredible ideas came to fruition.

First up, we talk to Sam Essame, part of the team at Danse Macabre productions, who are bringing the amazing Clown to the Pleasance theatre on Wednesday, 16th October.

Then, we check-in with the winner of this year’s London Horror Festival playwriting competition, Lady Aria Grey, to ask her about horror, drag, and what happens when the two of them meet in her show Grey Widow.

Finally, we hear from The Knock Knock Club to learn more about their new docu-play Last Orders.

In case you didn’t know, one of the London Horror Festival’s venues is based in one England’s oldest pubs, the Old Red Lion in Islington, so it has seen its fair share of visitors. Some of them never left… This show promises to separate the ghouls from the gossip…

Show 1: Clown (Danse Macabre)

London Horror Festival: C

Can you tell us a little bit about Clown? What’s it about?

Monsters Inc. with clowns. It starts off in a world where clowns exist purely to petrify, and there’s this one clown who wants to terrify more than anything in the world… and she just can’t do it. That’s until one afternoon, in a series of unfortunate mishaps, her wig is knocked off her head and she notices the large group of people sitting in the dark laughing at her. At first, she’s terrified. But then she starts to enjoy it.

How did you come up with the idea?

I’ve been wanting to work with clowns for years, longer than Danse Macabre’s been about, and even longer than I’ve been into horror.

When the killer clown craze was sweeping the US, I couldn’t help but think how clowns had been betrayed by horror. A beautiful medium so perfect for capturing the comedy and tragedy of life in an absurd and playful way had been reduced to jump scares and Hallowe’en costumes, and I wanted to make a show that encapsulated that. Find a way to give them back.

I then saw A Clown Show About Rain by Silent Faces last year at the Fringe, and ran to Joe (my Danse Macabre other half) telling him that we had to do that clown show I’d always wanted to do. Two months, one tour and some fish and chips on Brighton Pier later, and we had a story.

Tell us about the nomination for the ‘Les Enfants Terribles’ award. How did that come about?

So, in early 2018, Joe and I were both living with respective families, working rubbish jobs and really wanting some sense that we were going somewhere in our first year out of uni. Joe sent out one of his caffeine-fuelled application rounds and this one got back to us with interest.

The show was an old favourite of Joe’s where a group of kids tell each other scary stories entirely through torchlight, and we fought the ‘Beast from the East’ up and down the country to put it together in time. I remember thinking afterwards that we should go back when we finally get round to doing that clowning thing I’d always wanted to do. So, maybe…

How are you feeling about performing at The Pleasance? Is this your biggest show to date?

Funnily enough, the audition for Les Enfants was on the same stage at The Pleasance but this does feel completely different. A total of two people (one being my grandmother) came to see us for the audition; everyone else was there to support the other shows so this feels a lot more like the eye of Sauron landing on us saying “I see you”. It’s definitely our biggest and it feels like a step up. One step up per year we always say.

What can audiences expect?

At first, expect to be scared. Then expect to laugh. And then hopefully expect to keep laughing until about an hour or so after the show has finished. Fundamentally, I hope our audiences stop being scared of clowns.

I hope they’re able to leave the theatre and consider everything else a clown can do and be; funny, sad, political, beautiful. I hope they’re more open to watching clowns at fringe festivals and theatres and circuses alike and I hope they’re less likely to add IT: Chapter Two to their list when it inevitably comes out on Netflix.

Finally, what/who is the scariest clown you’ve ever seen?

I’m going to have to say The Joker, particularly from Moore’s Killing Joke. But even then, there’s a strong sense of tragedy to him, both in this backstory and his desperation to make Batman see his absurdist view on the world.

The wit and wisdom of The Joker, when combined with the horrifying extents he’ll go to to prove his point is what scares me so much about him. (Except when Jared Leto plays him. But let’s not talk about that).

But it would also be untrue to the nature of the show if I didn’t tell you about the most beautiful clown I’ve ever seen. As I mentioned, I had my little revelation after seeing A Clown Show About Rain at the Fringe and that had the most effective staging of mental health I’d ever seen.

They portrayed an anxiety attack by throwing a colossal number of metal buckets onto the stage so the clown had to try and stack them whilst they bounced about the stage in an ever-increasing hectic din that reached apocalyptic proportions almost to the point of agony – and then the clowns sat around and all shared a cup of tea. That’s what clowning can do. It’s so much more than just scaring people.

Show 2: Grey Widow (Lady Aria Grey)

London Horror Festival: GW

What is ‘Grey Widow’ about?

Well, the plot is about the prime minister and his mysterious murder, as well as his mourning widow and her sinful secret. But underneath the plot it’s about queerness, religion, society, and shame, and I think that drag and humour are some of the best ways to explore those things.

What made you want to write it?

I think that every actor wants their own one-man (one-queen?) show. To be perfectly honest, I started Grey Widow because I knew that the role I was born to play didn’t exist yet… so I decided to write it myself.

What do you want audiences to get out of the rehearsed reading?

The audience will be watching and listening to an early draft of something that will *hopefully* go on to become a complete play one day. I hope that the audience will be willing to share their feedback afterwards – I want to know if there are parts of the story that aren’t clear.

I want to know which parts were their favourites, and whether they interpret the story the same way I wrote it. I’m mostly just excited to share it with other people, since I’ve been keeping it all to myself for so long.

Drag and horror is not a common combination. What made you want to write both?

My favourite play is The Mystery of Irma Vep by Charles Ludlum, which is an homage to the campiness of Victorian gothic horror, and in some ways I think Grey Widow is a little bit of an homage to Irma Vep. I’ve always been attracted to the spooky and the supernatural in a sort of casual way, but only recently discovered that I actually really enjoy full-on, bloodcurdling horror.

And I do think that most horror actually has a lot in common with camp – it’s all a bit over the top, isn’t it? So, with that in mind, combining horror with drag seems like a pretty natural next step.

If you could describe Lady Aria Grey in three words, what would they be?

Sophisticated.

Seductive.

Spectral.

Show 3: Last Orders (The Knock Knock Club)

First off, can you tell us a little bit about The Knock Knock Club?

We are a team of paranormal investigators who also happen to be theatre-makers. Amongst us is a true believer of all things unexplained, a staunch sceptic, and an agnostic – so, yes, there are lots of arguments!

How did Last Orders start?

We’re passionate about unearthing the hidden, haunted histories of places and the people who lived and died there – taking untold stories and putting them onstage for the first time, in the very building where they happened. This germ of an idea eventually grew into Last Orders.

Why did you choose the Old Red Lion?

The Old Red is a place close to each of us, being a venue we’ve performed at many times each in the theatre upstairs, which is also one of the oldest fringe theatres in London. So, we’ve been aware for a long time of its supposedly chequered and spooky history – it’s been there for 600 years, it has many tales to tell! What shocked us is that no one has attempted to tell them before – we knew now was the time, and we were the people to do it.

What can audiences expect from ‘Last Orders’?

Expect to be shocked, challenged, and let in on some truly strange secrets from across the centuries, as well as the full story of our experience investigating the supernatural side of the building. We’ve found out and experienced some bizarre and chilling things – we can’t wait to show you…

And, finally, what on earth was Lenin doing in the dumb waiter?

If you want to find out more about what the father of the Soviet Union was doing in the dumb waiter of the Old Red Lion you’ll have to come and see the show! Next time we really need to buy a Ouija board with the Russian alphabet on…

The London Horror Festival runs from 8th October to 2nd November.  You can find all the information and ticket details on the London Horror Festival Website.  In the meantime, you can check out our quick preview here.

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