Troy Howarth, the author of The Haunted World of Mario Bava, (Here) due in 2014 from Midnight Marquee Press (http://www.midmar.com/), follows up his interview with James Goss by chatting a bit with Kate Webster, the director of Mr. Cushing and Mr. Lee: The Gentlemen of Horror. This fictionalized account of the friendship between Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee offers a revealing view of their "behind the scenes" frienship...
What got you interested in directing?
It was mainly being directed as an actor, at school and in amateur theatre, and seeing how much the director did to shape the final production and support the actors in giving their best performance.
How long have you been directing?
Since 1994 (which makes me feel ancient!), when I directed my first student production of Jacobean drama "The Revenger's Tragedy". Since then, I've directed outdoor productions, a season with Manchester Youth Theatre, site-specific plays and several shows at both the Edinburgh Fringe and Camden Fringe.
Oh, 1994 isn't that long ago! Do you have any favorite directors, either in film or theatre?
Vicky Featherstone's "Black Watch" for National Theatre of Scotland is one of the strongest pieces of theatre I've ever seen and I can't wait to see what she does as Artistic Director of the Royal Court. I'm a big fan of both Simon McBurney and Theatre de Complicite, and Declan Donellan and Cheek by Jowl; I don't think it's a coincidence that they're both directors who've worked with one company over a long period of time. I've also seen some fantastic work by Rufus Norris and Katie Mitchell, who tend to be directors with big ideas.
And now we come to Gentlemen of Horror, which deals with the relationship between Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. How did you become involved in this project?
The writer James Goss and I have known each other a long time and worked together before. He sent me this script and asked if I'd be interested in doing it, and I jumped at the chance.
Based on that, I would assume that you were already a fan of Lee and Cushing?
I was a fan of the films I'd seen, but I think I've become much more aware of the range of both their careers and quite the volume of films they made together since working on this project. They're both screen icons and it's been fascinating to look behind the curtain a bit.
What are your thoughts on Lee and Cushing as actors? Do you prefer one over the other?
I think they're quite different, and that's one of the reasons they complement each other so well. I couldn't pick a favourite, but I think Lee has great presence and a real air of brooding menace when it's required, while Cushing brings such delicacy and precision to his roles.
That's a good distinction between the two; I'd also argue that both have tended to be underrated for far too long. Did you do much research ahead of time, or was it all more or less there on the page as far as you were concerned?
The vast majority of it's on the page and in the encyclopedic research James has done, but we've done some more research on specific things during the rehearsal process.
How have you worked with your actors? Are you encouraging them to look at the films that Lee and Cushing did together, or are you encouraging them to focus on the script itself, divorced of outside influences?
The actors are both big horror fans who'd already seen a lot of Cushing and Lee's work, but we've also looked at some of the films and biographies to flesh out certain moments and help it make sense in their minds. There aren't always definitive answer to every question. For example - no spoilers - there's a moment in the play when Cushing talks about apologising to his dying wife Helen for "not having been the perfect husband". We may never know precisely what he was sorry for, but there are little hints and indications that Matthew can use to play that scene.
I think the films inform every page of the script and the actors are drawing on that, but for both of them it has to be a performance, not an impression. No-one can replicate Cushing and Lee and we're not attempting that. That's also important because the script is about their relationship off screen and the things you don't see in their films.
It really is a wonderful idea; I'm sure the fans of these actors would all love to see it. Are you pleased with how the production has been going?
Very pleased! We were delighted to find a venue with such a strong cinema connection, and it's great that they're screening "Dracula, A.D. 1972" after the play. The actors, Matthew Woodcock and Simon Kane, have been an absolute pleasure to work with; they "got" the characters from the very first read and have been doing brilliant work in rehearsals. I can't wait to see them on stage.
I have a perverse affection for Dracula AD 1972, which doesn't seem to be shared by a lot of other Hammer Horror buffs. Sounds like a perfect capper to me! What do you have planned after this?
We'll have at least one more performance of "The Gentlemen of Horror" early in 2014 (details to be announced in the next few weeks) and I'm hoping to be part of the VAULT Festival 2014 with a non-horror project called "We Are Not Alone". I've done two projects this year with new writing company The Pensive Federation and would love to work with them again. - we'll see what happens.
Kate, thank you for taking the time to answer these questions, and I wish you all every success with the production!
YOU CAN BOOK TICKETS TO SEE 'MR CUSHING AND MR LEE: THE GENTLEMEN OF HORROR: HERE