The London Horror Festival has now kicked off! We checked in with Joseph Willis, organiser of this year’s Horror Playwriting Competition, to see what he has to say about this year’s contest.
What’s important to you about horror theatre?
Horror is important to me as it’s a genre undefined by rules. Therefore, I love it. It has so much scope and possibility and can allow for thoughts and ideas which an audience may normally not want to engage with.
Rod Serling was a champion of this with his seminal serial anthology series The Twilight Zone. Each week a different fantastical, often terrifying story. Each week a hidden (or sometimes not so hidden) statement on the world.
With one hand it entertains, the other it discusses, without the need for naturalism or physics. It can discuss and entertain free from the trappings, which may otherwise dampen either aim.
Thus, I think horror theatre is extremely important; it is a much more intimate setting. With a film or TV show, you can switch it off. But theatre is there happening in front of your eyes.
This is also why I think horror theatre is so important because from an entertainment perspective, the audience can be terrified in all new ways. An insidious idea or creepy movement occurring live in front of them can stick in their heads and terrify them for much longer than, say, a giant CGI monster.
The possibilities and capabilities of horror theatre are much more expansive and terrifying than any other form of the genre and that is why it is so important.
What’s important about this year’s theme, ‘Women in Horror’?
This year’s theme ‘Women in Horror’ is extremely important as we need to increase the representation of women within the world of horror. Both in who is writing it and just generally how women are viewed in the medium.
There are some incredible female horror writers and characters such as Jennifer Kent (who wrote the stratospheric The Babadook) and Ellen Ripley (the protagonist of Alien who I spent a long time as a child dressing up as). But largely it is a male dominated genre where women are written as things to be killed or items for the hero to save.
We want women writing horror and women written in horror to get the recognition that they deserve and whilst let’s be honest this competition won’t change the world completely but hopefully it’s a little step in the right direction.
What do you look for in a horror play?
What I look for in a horror play is the uncanny. Freud talks about the uncanny in the sense of the mundane made terrifying by the infinite possibilities that it holds (or something to do with mothers and phallic cigars).
That’s why a room with no one in it holds much more dread than a giant monster.
I love it when horror plays focus on this dread, on the uncanny. Twisting the everyday, the mundane.
This, I believe, is so effective and is what allows those 4am terrified thoughts and desires to lock doors to occur. The brain knows that the devil isn’t going to appear, but what is that dark shadow at the back of the room…?
What excited you about this year’s winner, ‘Goodnight Mr. Spindrift’?
Precisely what I said above. I think Nancy Netherwood’s incredible script is brilliant at building dread and focusing on the uncanny.
It takes questions that we have all asked ourselves, like can we ever be truly loved, can we truly trust our lover, then it twists and turns them, and makes them into something dark, terrifying and horrifically beautiful.
It also does what I love about horror and uses it as a genre to talk about contemporary issues, looking at the prosecution of human rights, an all-seeing government and other subjects, which are worryingly getting more prescient in our day and age.
As well as this, the characters are all fantastically nuanced, three-dimensional and complex, and you just want to spend more and more time getting to know more about them.
It also scares the hell out of you, which is no mean feat (especially for someone who has a high tolerance like me).
If there was one thing you could tell all emerging playwrights, what would it be?
In the words of Baz Lurhman on his seminal song Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen) sometimes you’re ahead, and sometimes you’re behind but at the end of the day the road is long, and it is only with yourself.
Love what you do and try not to concentrate on who is getting successful and who is not. Do not compare yourself to others but continue to strive down your own path.
It’s hard not to doubt and think you’re doing something wrong, but trust in your voice, learn from your mistakes and keep developing your work.
But whatever you do, don’t compare yourself to others.
By Sam Essame
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