Scott McArdle and his colleagues Tim Brain and John King had a dream…or was it a nightmare? That nightmare is now alive…it’s alive…IT’S ALIVE!!!! *ahem* Nexus Theatre at Murdoch University is into its second weekend of The Gothics, a trilogy of classic horror theatre that began last week with Dracula, continues this week with The Mummy Rises, and concludes next week with Second Chance Theatre‘s Frankenstein.
Writer/director/performer Scott McArdle took to his keyboard during a dress rehearsal for Mummy to tell us more about where it all began for The Gothics and where he’s going with Frankenstein.
What was the main impetus for you and your collaborators in putting together this trilogy of shows? How long has it all been in the works, and when did you know the timing was finally right to bring it to life?
A few years ago while I was working and studying at Murdoch University; Tim Brain, John King and I discussed doing a technical horror show where we attempted to create terrifying performance art on stage. Timelines never seemed to match up back then but the idea cropped back up as John mentioned his desire to direct a production of Dracula. We see this as an evolution of that idea: three gothic horrors over three weeks, sharing a mutual set (with some tweaks) and production team.
The three of us have a love of gothic horror, as well as classic films and literature, in my case, so we’re thrilled the evolution took us to our three creatures: Dracula, The Mummy, and Frankenstein’s Creature.
Why did you choose Frankenstein and what was your process for adapting it? Did you work straight from the novel? What is different about your adaptation from others?
Frankenstein and I have a long history. We studied it in year twelve literature and the obsession sparked for me. A few people in Perth are starting to discover my love of science fiction and putting that on stage. Well this was the original sci-fi story!
I had decided that to do this on stage I’d have to stay as true to the novel as possible, compared to most adaptations we see. I re-read the book twice, making notes as I went, lines I loved, character names, cuts and criticisms. And then I put the book down. As I wrote I never picked up the book, instead trusting the notes I’d made. I let my gut make decisions and, cornily enough, my heart too.
This adaptation does a few things that many overleap. Namely, we frame the story as a flashback, trying to stay true to the epistolary form of the novel; the present day is all set on a boat in the Arctic where Victor tells his story. We also keep Victor young; he’s not a doctor, rather a student in his early twenties, going down a very dangerous path. That’s what makes it so frightening. One mistake sparks a life of horror.
Do you have a favourite Frankenstein adaptation, film, theatre or otherwise? Did you see the Cumberbatch/Miller/Dear/Boyle production?
My favourite adaptation is the Penny Dreadful version of Frankenstein. It’s just wrapped after three seasons and is a combination of gothic literature’s best characters. If the all-star cast doesn’t sell you, the end of the first episode will. Frankenstein done right!
I’ve watched the Danny Boyle version a few time with both casts and have some controversial opinions. I’m not the biggest fan of steampunk so I had a few cringe moments, I really disliked it on my first viewing but have warmed to it since. Miller is actually my preferred Creature, doubled by the fact that Cumberbatch looks sociopathic enough to play Victor.
What have you found most challenging and most enjoyable in creating this show?
I’ve spent six months in the rehearsal room, which is an enormous amount of time, but to be able to work with so many amazing artists has been incredible. I’ve been using a lot of new elements such as blood, masks, puppets, and gore makeup too which is terrifying but also eye opening. We’re trying to expand our repertoire as theatre makers currently.
The most challenging part has been stepping into Victor’s role myself. Our lead stepped down about a month ago due to unfortunate circumstances so due to time constraints I took it up. But the rest of the cast and our team have been so supportive throughout it all.
How did you and your collaborators come to a consensus about the stage design to make it work for three different shows?
Our production designer, Ally Snell, is someone we’ve all worked with before and we all trust her instincts and designs. We all gathered images that inspired us and sent them to her which helped guide her towards what we needed. During the process we’ve all kept her in the loop about our requirements and compromised on both ends.
Sitting in a dress rehearsal for The Mummy Rises right now and gone through Dracula last week, I think we definitely can. From sword fights to vampire bites to flickering lights, we’re using every weapon in our arsenal to shock, startle, and scare.
There’s a specific moment in Frankenstein between Victor and The Creature that’s particularly frightening on and off stage. Whenever I come off from that scene, there’s always a few people asking if I’m okay. Usually I am.
I also just sat down the other day with our special effects king and props master, Andrew David, to go over all our practical blood and gore effects. I’ll tell you now, it’s going to be truly realistic, and a little disgusting, at points!
Why do you think that Mary Shelley’s work continues to get to us nearly 200 years later?
I think she, in all her brilliance, joined the ranks of Shakespeare, Ibsen, and Euripides as a timeless voice that speaks to the confused, the tormented, the lost, the damaged, and the bullied. Frankenstein is rich in so much pain and darkness, that we can’t help but cling to a story like that, searching for meaning in her cautionary tale. Sometimes, we as humans, love the dark a little too much, or are too afraid to admit it.
And how about a remount of the show in 2018 to commemorate Frankenstein’s 200th birthday?
Oh I wish! I love doing this play and I love this cast. You’ve planted the seed in my head now…
The Mummy Rises, the second installment of The Gothics trilogy at Nexus Theatre, runs from 14 – 16 July.
Frankenstein, the final installment of The Gothics trilogy at Nexus Theatre, runs from 21 – 23 July.
For more information about showtimes and to book tickets, head to the Nexus Theatre website here.