Actors Simon Kane and Matthew Woodcock can be heard together as Sir Maxwell House and Roy Steel in popular podcast “The Monster Hunters” (for Wireless Theatre). Simon has appeared on Radio 4′s “John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme” and “Before they were famous”, performed with Shunt and written for Mitchell & Webb. Matthew’s recent work includes “The Saint Valentine’s Day Murder” for Newgate Productions and “The Legend of Springheel’d Jack” and “Sherlock Holmes Strikes Back” with Wireless Theatre Company.
Director Kate Webster has produced and directed plays at the Edinburgh and Camden Fringes (including “The Universal” and “Helen and the space rocket” at the Etcetera Theatre), as well as work with Midsommer Actors Company, London Bubble and The Pensive Federation.
James Goss is the writer of 'Gentlemen of Horror' PCASUK Troy Howarth caught up with him...
Can you tell us a little about your background, how you got into writing, etc?
I had a proper career (running the BBC's Doctor Who and Cult websites) and then, one day found that a play I'd adapted at school (based on Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency) had done rather well in LA. We'd thought it was just another high school doing it, but it had had a proper run in LA and won three awards, and I did suddenly feel as though my teenage self was having more fun than me. Now I write books and radio plays and sit at home all day with the cat. I still write lots of Doctor Who stuff (including the Doctor's "official" biography "His Lives And Times" which is just out), but am also having great fun doing other things. And this is just something I really fancied doing.
What was your first exposure to Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing and their films?
That's a really hard one to answer. I remember Peter Cushing being wonderful in the Dalek films, and I remember him getting a rose on Jim'll Fix It - mostly because my Mum found it so sad. Shamefully, I don't think I knew what a Christopher Lee was until I was grown up.
Do you have a preference for one actor over the other, and do you have any particular favorite roles and films of theirs?
It's impossible to answer this one as I know I'll get it wrong. I fell in love with Hammer when they brought out that wonderful black pick'n'mix cube of DVDs, and have found the blu-rays a similarly eclectic delight (especially the fun of finding random discs, like The Skull from a weird Australian reseller or Vampire Circus in a bargain bin in Berlin).
Actually, I really like The Skull - not only do you get the two of them playing snooker like old friends, you also get Peter Cushing being amazing in that nightmare trial sequence. And Christopher Lee being very handsome and charming. You can so see why he's a sex symbol when you watch The Skull. Not so much in The Mummy.
I think Peter Cushing was a brilliant actor - he's really amazing in 1984 and whenever Hammer let him off the leash. He's horrible, really horrible in Twins Of Evil. And hopefully I'm getting it right when I say that Christopher Lee is marvellous in the Dennis Wheatley films. I wish they'd made loads of them. And you can tell how wonderful he is as Dracula from the films in which they use someone else. The Legend Of The Seven Golden Vampires is... is a thing.
I think watching The Satanic Rites Of Dracula and talking about the making of it with the author Guy Adams. He leant me his copy of Cushing reading his autobiographies (I'm so glad the books themselves came back into print), and he comes across as so utterly charming and diffident, almost as enthusiastic about painting headscarves as he is about acting. By contrast, I did find Christopher Lee's autobiography more of a slog. There are some magnificently scathing bits, though. But Cushing's' are more delightful.
I found them both fascinating reads... But they're very different people in temperament, so that shows through. How long did it take you to write it?
Not long at all. A radio producer friend said "oh, this would make a nice play, why don't you write it?" and I slacked off proper work and did it instead. And then kept coming back to it over the last few months.
Not really. It all fell together surprisingly easily. My friend Kate Webster directs a lot of theatre. She approached The Woolwich Grand about doing it sometime next year, and they came back and said "Actually, can you do it in a few weeks time?". So it's a sudden, enthusiastic rush.
That's great! Can you tell us about the actors cast for the play? Were they encouraged to study Lee and Cushing on film or were they left to their own devices?
Matthew and Simon are very enthusiastic, and old friends who've worked together a lot. Luckily, they love the Hammer films, and are using this as an excuse to rewatch their favourites. They're still working on what they'll do. One caveat, though - if you're coming along, please don't expect two people who look and sound identical to Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. I don't think anyone can, or should!
I agree. When Scorsese made The Aviator, he said that the idea was to capture the essence of the real people, not to turn it into a waxworks exhibit; I think that's the best approach. When it comes to doing subjects of a biographical nature, it's easy to fall into cliché formula. Was it your plan to avoid this by using these two real people as a springboard for a fantasy, as it were?
I don't really know what the cliche of an autobiographical play is. You'll be relieved to hear it's certainly not Cushing on his deathbed with Lee come to see him to chat over old times. Nor is it a series of painstaking recreations of their best scenes... It's two friends in a series of dressing rooms in between scenes on films that they're working on. Nattering, gossiping, occasionally needling each other, but mostly just being the best of friends.
That really does sound excellent. What are your plans after this play has had its run?
We've already had an offer for a date in January. I think it'd be nice to do it some more. But that said, please do come to Woolwich if you can. There's nothing sadder than being sat in a restored cinema laughing at your own jokes.
We will do our best to spread the word and help fill the seats!
WOOLWICH GRAND THEATRE BOX OFFICE: