Theatre of the Damned Blog

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Friday, 30 September 2011

Diary of the Damned part 1 - The Read-Through

- Being an occasional production diary chronicling the run-up to Revenge of the Grand Guignol -

Gastro-pub...OF HORROR!!
And so it begins. As afternoon yawned into evening on an unseasonably hot Thursday at the end of September the cast of Revenge of the Grand Guignol gathered for the first time. The meeting place, appropriately enough, was The Old Nun's Head - so named after the bloody Headless Nun who's said to roam the cellars and haunt the tap-room searching for her grisly property. Actually, it's because it's in Nunhead - but why do they call it Nunhead, I ask you? Leaving ghostly matters aside, we had gathered together to give the four scripts which make up the new show their first airing. We've already been working on certain elements of Tom's new play (loosely based on an André de Lorde classic) but for the rest of them, this was the first time we'd had a chance to hear them since auditions at the end of June. It's always exciting; lots of new people meeting for the first time, old friends meeting for the first time in a while, and above all hearing the plays in the voices which are going to carry them forward through the next  two months.

And here they are... (L-R) James Utechin, Jeffrey Mayhew,
EJ Martin and Tom Richards
I find Grand Guignol read-throughs particularly exciting because they're so varied. Most actors are taking on more than one role, and over the course of two hours or so you've moved through three or four complete stories. There are twists and turns in most of them, and if they can take the cast by surprise then that's one step closer to scaring the living hell out of an audience. Last year, at the read through for Grand Guignol, the quite brilliant (and quite scary) Maria Moustaka, who herself was playing an eye-gouging, croaking witch, actually yelped in horror when we reached the reveal at the close of The Final Torture, she had a pretty good idea it wasn't going to end well for the heroine, but until we got to the read-through she hadn't thought it would be that bad.

Panny Skrivanos (right) getting some character
guidance from Tom. James (front left) getting some pink cider from Kate.
This year's batch of scripts seemed to go down alright, which is a relief, and already some fantastic performances were coming through. It's great to be at the start of a process and know that you've got a team of actors who are going to excel in every way, and who will find things in the scripts that we hadn't even noticed ourselves. Obviously, a read-through for an effects-heavy horror show is never going to give you the full picture, but there were more than a couple of spine-chilling moments thanks to the bloody brilliant Scarlet Sweeney and Ian Champion. Mad scientists raved, ghosts bled through radio static, Tom and I did a dodgy impression of The Archers, women screamed, men screamed, everybody died and before I knew it night had fallen, I was four pints in and we were coming to the close of the final play.

The Old Nun's Head is a bloody nice pub.
The iPhone has a bloody shit camera.
As is traditional there was a certain amount more beer consumed before we packed up our scripts and headed for home. We may have stayed past last orders, the bar staff may have had to ask us to leave, it's hard to say (my head's a little wonk this morning). What I do know for sure is that we're incredibly lucky to have such a wonderful company of actors, and I can't wait to get to the rehearsal room this evening.


- Stewart Pringle

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