Comedy and horror have a mixed relationship at best, for every Shaun Of The Dead or Young Frankenstein there’s a Lesbian Vampire Killers or Dracula Dead And Loving It. Writers Greg Hemphill and Donald McLeary however are clearly not frightened by the ghosts of comedy/horror past as not only are they attempting to blend laughs and screams in their new show but they’ve also taken on bone fide blood-curdling classic, in their show for the National Theatre Of Scotland, An Appointment With The Wicker Man.
Robin Hardy’s 1973 film is often considered not only the best British horror film of all time but quite simply one of the best horror films ever made. Hemphill – obviously known for his work in Chewin’ The Fat and Still Game – and McLeary have decided to take some liberties with the movie, but also remain faithful to the story and leave in as much of the fear factor as possible. The Wee Review took a few minutes away from the busy rehearsal schedule to speak to actor Sean Biggerstaff about the show.
So how would you describe the show? Obviously it differs from the film but is it an homage? A pastiche? A tribute?
It’s very much an homage. The writers have been asked frequently whether they see it as a pastiche but it’s not really as there’s no mockery and it looks at the film absolutely affectionately. The set up is different from the movie in that it focuses on an AmDram company coming to the island to perform a theatrical version of the Wicker Man so it’s a sort of meta-textual telling of it but all the elements of the film are there.
So what role do you play in the show?
I play the actor who’s taking the role of the policeman – the Edward Woodward character, who finds himself amongst a lot of very strange and very enthusiastic rural people just as Woodward does in the film.
The film is a cult movie, and as you said, you’re not playing it entirely for laughs – however was there ever a worry about getting a negative reaction from the fans?
That worry obviously comes along with the initial concept, taking on something as popular as The Wicker Man, but as I say the film isn’t a cheap pastiche. If anything, it’s quite reverent of the film and I’m certainly confident that there’s nothing in the show that will offend or even put off any fans of the film – and the horror is played totally straight.
You’re not worried about offending that other minority – those involved in amateur dramatics?
No I don’t think there’s any danger of that. We were just discussing that actually, that there’s a distinction to be made between making a comedy about something and simply taking the piss. There’s no meanness in the show or lampooning of anyone except actors – real actors – and I think we’re probably allowed to do that.
According to the press release, the show isn’t recommended for those under 16 so obviously the show is intent on keeping the creeping horror of the movie…
To be honest I wasn’t aware of that being in the press release, but yes, both in terms of the horror and actually some of the comic content, it might be covered by that warning. I think even people who write plays discover new things in the rehearsal process. I think it was Alan Bennett who said that writing a play was like opening up your suitcase on holiday and finding lots of things you didn’t know you’d packed.