What Monsters Do: Q&A with director Philip North
What Monsters Do and The Puppetry of Flesh director Philip North catches up with The Horror Hothouse‘s Emma Knock about his love of theatre and horror, working with the legendary Cenobite and what’s next for Hidden Basement Productions.
Hi Phil, thanks for chatting with us. Firstly, can you tell us a bit about how you got into the wonderful world of theatre?
Hello! Well, theatre is something that I’ve been interested in since school. I always wanted to be an actor, so after leaving school I went to drama school and then spent the early part of my career as an actor, appearing in various bits and pieces. Along side that I’ve always been a writer and as I got older I started directing too. I’ve worked in film and radio, but theatre does hold something special for me.
We recently had the pleasure of seeing What Monsters Do, the new play that you directed, which is based on two stories from Nicholas Vince’s story collection of the same name. Can you tell us a bit about the play and how it came about?
The play came about through the Hellraiser Podcast, which I co-host with Peter Davis. We initially interviewed Nick through the podcast, and he came and saw Hidden Basement’s show at the London Horror Festival last year, The Puppetry of Flesh. He really liked it and called us up this year, to meet and talk about the idea of putting one of his stories on stage.
Initially Nick had a different story in mind, but as we talked we realised that doing Tunes from the Music Hall and Green Eyes would be the best fit for theatre. They are very dark tales of psychological horror. When you read them they feel a little different I think and that was the aim; to create a companion piece that brought out different elements of the stories and showed you some different aspects of the characters.
What was it like to work with such a horror icon?
It was great! Nick is such a gent. He was great to work with, everything you could want from a production partner. It was a very smooth process where everyone really was one hundred per cent focused on making the absolute best product. And of course as he was a Cenobite! He’s one of my personal horror heroes!
Out of the two tales, which was your favourite and why?
I loved them both and as they were so different, they were each a very unique challenge. I think I initially felt more drawn to Green Eyes as it felt like there was more opportunity to ‘play’, but when we started rehearsing there was so much depth and richness in Tunes from the Music Hall that I honestly couldn’t pick a favourite now. They were both great fun to work on and I was very pleased with the reactions to both stories.
We caught the final performance at the Etcetera Theatre in Camden and the crowd were really into it, from jumping out of their seats to gulping and laughing hysterically. What do you think it is about What Monsters Do that evokes such strong reactions from the audience?
Good question! I think the stories deal with some very dark and difficult material. I was very insistent that we not let the audience off the hook. Keep it like a pressure cooker, but with lots of humour and smaller moments to lull you into a false sense of security and add some balance. When you have this amazing writing and you add in the performances at such an intensity, it creates something really special. It was something I repeated time and time again in the rehearsal room; that if the audience can sit and feel relaxed entirely then we weren’t doing what we set out to do. I’m very happy the play got such strong reactions as it means we all achieved what we were aiming for.
Are there any further plans for What Monsters Do – a tour perhaps?
There may be. The show has been very successful. I always like to keep moving forward and building on things. We just had a meeting with Nick to talk about future projects with us so watch this space.
At last year’s London Horror Festival you enjoyed a sold out run with your play The Puppetry of Flesh, can you tell us a bit about it?
It was an experiment for us really. Could we do horror theatre? We had just done a Hellraiser inspired radio play called Piercing the Veil (which you can download for free from the Hellraiser Podcast feed) and we were interested in trying out horror in different mediums. We really wanted to put on a play, and having worked a lot in comedy before, we decided to write something quite different! It’s the story of a man driven mad by demons; it leaves the audience to question whether they are real or in his head. We decided to do a short taut piece exploring this idea and rather than have it be totally traditional, we had the demon represented by a puppet so that it could walk, talk and interact on the stage. It was a great creation. Very unsettling.
Do you and Hidden Basement Productions have any further projects in the pipeline?
Yes! Lots of projects at the moment. Things I can’t say any more on but rest assured that there are some exciting announcements coming up for this year. We will let you know as soon as we can.
What is it that draws you toward horror as a genre?
It’s always fascinated me. The dark side of life and the motivations of monsters. I think that’s the key for me. I see the killer in the movie and I wonder why they are doing it and my imagination sparks up. Fantastical dark things have always interested me since I was quite young. That’s a bit worrying actually!
Finally, what’s your favourite scary movie?
It has to be Hellraiser. I love so many horror movies but I think Hellraiser is something special. When I first saw it I was so blown away. I’d never seen a movie that showed things like that. When you re-watch it though, you see that it’s actually a family drama and the ordinary humans are much nastier than the monsters!