Venue: Edinburgh Fringe Festival, C Venues,  Chambers Street, EH1 1HR 

Interview with Tim Connery, Author

1. Where did you first hear about this bizarre story?

“I grew up in a house where my family experienced a lot of spooky goings-on, so I have always been fascinated by tales of the supernatural and the paranormal. I used to read anything and everything about ghosts and hauntings, especially anything by Colin Wilson, and the Cock Lane ghost would crop up a lot. And Dickens even mentions it in A Tale of Two Cities. Don’t ask me what ghosts are, though! Hallucinations? Thought projections from people’s minds? Emotional scenes somehow captured by the environment and played back like a recording? Deliberate deceptions? The souls of the departed? Or just mistaken interpretation of natural phenomena? They could be one or a mixture or all of those things, or something else entirely. I just loved the story, and I loved its historical setting – 18th Century London was a fascinating time and place.”

2. What made you decide to write a musical about it? And why that instead of a play or screenplay?

“This story has a lot going on in it, and as it unfolds the story constantly switches between being funny, eerie, tragic, and downright bizarre. It had a lot of comedy but was simultaneously serious, and the tone shifted all the time. I did once try writing it as a screenplay, but those tonal shifts weren’t right for a film. I soon realised that this tale needed to be told in a specific way – the form needed an extra emotional dimension, but what that form was always eluded me. It wasn’t until Steven came along that I realised what it could actually be – a musical can easily handle those shifts in tone.”

3. How did Steve Geraghty come to be involved?

“Steven literally knocked at my door one Sunday morning and asked me if I had any ideas for a musical! It wasn’t quite as out of the blue as that – he wasn’t a total stranger, I had known him for years. But he really did turn up unexpectedly and say he wanted to compose music for his own show and did I have any ideas for a musical. And it was only when he asked the question that I realised what form The Poltergeist of Cock Lane might take, so I pitched it to him and as we discussed it we both saw how it would work. If Steven hadn’t turned up like that, I expect the story would still be gathering dust in a drawer. The first song he wrote for it blew me away and I knew we could make it work.”

4. How has the show changed from the original first draft to what it is now?

“The show has changed a lot – the original draft had many more characters and was twice as long. We wrote the West End version first – big scenes, huge ensemble numbers, special effects galore… Actually, forget the West End – that version would have to be staged in Wembley Arena or somewhere. No point in having no ambition!”

5. What about the show do you think makes it a great fit for the Fringe?

“Fringe audiences see a lot of shows in one day, so your production has to be short, yet entertaining and memorable. The entire production team has done phenomenal work in scaling this show down for the Fringe, and the cast all give wonderful, compelling performances. Director Damian has done a brilliant job in bringing the action close to the audience, and in bringing out the drama and comedy, but he has also found the eerie stillness the show sometimes needs. Damian’s vision really suits the story and matches Steven’s music – offbeat, unusual, sometimes frenetic but at other times almost elegiac. If the Fringe is about showcasing something different, thought-provoking yet also entertaining, then this should be a perfect fit.”

6. Do you have a favourite moment in the show?

“I love watching the whole thing unfold.”

7. Ideally, where would you like to see the show going after the Fringe?

“All my thoughts are on Edinburgh right now, but, since you ask… After Edinburgh, it would be great if there was interest to put on a larger-scale version of the show somewhere, but that said, I would still love to see this particular Fringe version put on here in London and elsewhere, if at all possible. Maybe with some of the bits we’ve had to drop (due to time constraints) put back in. And maybe at Halloween…”

 

 

Interview with Damian Sandys, Director

Q: How did you come on board?

“I worked with Steven on some shows last year. He floated the idea around and I actually had my first serious production meeting about it the day after I returned from last year’s Edinburgh festival! I had literally got off the train about 12 hours earlier (and I was still a little delirious from it all!) but then I found myself already planning for the next year, which was quite a lovely thing at that point. So it has just been just under a year. Since then we have reduced the show to an Edinburgh-friendly version. We have cast it, made adaptations for that, gone through previews and it’s taken a huge journey across that year but it’s been a very exciting one and it’s been lovely to have it so slowly bubbling away, which makes it now very exciting to have got here in just a few weeks.”

Q: What drew you to the show?

“The premise of the show is so intriguing. It sounds so outlandish and crazy and yet this is an event that actually happened! So automatically it sets up so many questions in your mind. Then when I looked at it further, the book had so much detail and unexpected wit in it for what could be just a very dark, sinister thing. It does have those elements in it, but it does have a lighter side to it as well. The music is incredibly catchy and beautiful. But the moment when I really latched onto it was the moment I started to picture it and I immediately saw it as a smaller chamber piece than in fact the script suggested. And one of the delights has been making it much more of an ensemble piece and fleshing out that side of it.”

Q: Why will fringe audiences like it?

“Because of the story, I think. It creates a very chilling atmosphere. And there’s this wonderful sense of “whodunit” – it’s a bit like a musical version of Broadchurch! And trying to create your opinions and weigh up the evidence, which is always rather satisfying as an audience member. On top of that I think the music goes round and round your head, so I think both of those will appeal. It’s also the kind of show that can appeal to a huge age span and I think that’s brilliant for the Fringe. It doesn’t exclude anyone, it should be fun for all!”

Q: If you could compare it to other shows, what would you relate it to?

“That’s a very hard question! In one sense, it’s quite sweeping and epic. However, I think it’s a really personalised story and it’s a very intimate tale. I don’t know what I would compare it to, I find it quite unusual and original. I guess it has elements of laughing and crying, it has a heart, it has comedy, it has truth – so all the things you would equate to Sondheim in certain ways, Stiles and Drewe in certain ways but I don’t think it falls into any particular category like that which is really nice actually.”

Q: Do you have a favourite song, moment or scene?

“There is a song called Questioning a Poltergeist and that is always a brilliant moment for me. I feel like that stakes are very high, the drama is starting to really unfold and it’s one of my favourite songs. It’s always one that I’m singing along with! And I’m very proud of the staging of that one as well. I’m also hugely fond of the ending of the show. I find it very rewarding and chilling. There are some really gorgeous harmonies. It’s one of those moments where the story, the music, the lyrics and the characters fuse together and create something very magical.”

Q: How is directing an Edinburgh show different to directing shows in other contexts?

“I think in Edinburgh you’re always conscious of a few things – you’re conscious of time pressures, that the average audience member has a very packed schedule. They don’t want things much longer than an hour. So every minute, every second has to count, you can’t waste time. So you’ve really got to think about the momentum of the story and how you’re telling it. There’s also budget constraints and technical constraints with very short get-ins and get-outs and limited technical capabilities. You’re looking at the show in its purest form really, and going “what do we need to tell this story?” as opposed to “what do we want?” And actually rather than that being a restriction, I actually find it really wonderful – it’s a huge trigger to creativity. It would be very easy to deck things out with a lot of scenery and a lot of props but actually what the Edinburgh Fringe does is force you to think about it in a different way and how you can create the same effects but with very little. It’s very much about creating something out of nothing. That’s something that I really love as a director.”

Q: What is your experience of the Edinburgh Fringe so far and why are you going back?

“The Edinburgh Fringe is mental but in such a brilliant way. I have done 14 years at the festival and this summer I am doing my 37th, 38th and 39th Edinburgh shows! My first experience was in 2001 when I was leaving university and the theatre company we had there decided to do one final fling. We went up having never been before and absolutely loved it. We had a great time, lost a lot of money but we kind of learned how the festival operated. And I remember being up there and saying “I have to come back next year!” and I just did 12 years in a row and then had a couple of years off. But every year everything got bigger and better – I started doing more than one show a year! I love it because it’s so intense and it’s so crazy but for two months you get to have the most amazing time creating shows from scratch, creating new shows, spending time in a place where there’s every type of show possible. You see shows that you would never dream of going to see elsewhere and some of them are the best things you’ve ever seen. You spend a month with such like-minded people and there’s just this huge bubble – I call it the “Edinbubble” – you’re so oblivious to everything else that’s going on in the world outside. But you see the most amazing shows, get to know brilliant people – some of my closest friends have come from Edinburgh, there’s a brilliant atmosphere, there’s so many friendly faces, people that just want to discover new and unusual theatre. That is the thing actually, I very rarely go and see shows that I’ve seen before. I’m always looking for new things, challenging my own expectations. I think you learn so much from being there. ”

Interview with Steven Geraghty, Composer

1. What first interested you about the script?

“Tim suggested this story to me when we wanted to write a musical. It was his first suggestion. I was hooked the moment I read it.
This script has humour, love themes and supernatural happenings that intrigue everyone. It’s so exciting to have so many different levels to this fast-paced show.
We discovered this story many years ago and what is great about it is that we only touch on a small percentage of the plot. All the characters have different backgrounds and stories to tell themselves.”

2. Where did you draw inspiration from when writing the music?

“I love film music, musical theatre and choral music but I always try to listen to whatever style I can. Composers such as Danny Elfman and Hanz Zimmer have always been a part of my life. Jason Robert Brown and Sondheim have crept in into it in more recent years so I’m playing catch up with them.
I’ve tried to make the sound match the time of the piece; but then other moments are totally different, which I hope keeps the audience on their toes. I also love being experimental with rhythms and time signatures.”

3. Were some songs harder to write than others?

“Writing music can be very unpredictable. Sometimes you can write a song in 10 minutes and know that that is the one, and then sometimes you may not finish a song having worked on it on and off for weeks. With Tim’s unique lyrics it made my job very easy a lot of the time. I guess the biggest challenge when writing songs is keeping the essence of the show at heart as much as possible. It’s definitely a very refreshing and rewarding process.”

4. What was your favourite song to write? Is it still your favourite?

“Honestly I love the last few songs of the show as in context they pull on people’s emotions but then I do love hearing the full company sing their numbers together. I don’t have any favourites….”

5. Why do you think Fringe audiences will enjoy it?

“The Poltergeist of Cock Lane is a fast-paced show with many songs and styles packing into a short amount of time that will take you on an unpredictable journey of discovering the truth.”

6. What are you most looking forward to about the fringe?

“I obviously can’t wait for our show to be viewed by complete strangers at the festival but also I can’t wait to be surrounded by so much talent in the city and explore so many people’s creative brains through their work. From comedies to musicals to plays and concerts, the Fringe has everything to offer. I’m just gutted I can’t see it all!”

7. What’s the plan for the show after August?

“Well…let’s see if people like it first!”

About the show

The Poltergeist of Cock Lane, by Tim Connery and Steven Geraghty, is a new musical based on infamous hauntings that took place in London between 1761 and 1762. The musical tells the story of the only time in legal history that a man was charged with murder based on evidence given by a ghost, with the court having to decide if the haunting was real or not.

The musical is part-black comedy, part-supernatural mystery and part- Gothic romance. It is a musical journey into the crazed heart of 18th Century London. A grieving widower, a drunken landlord and a dead wife who won’t rest all come together for a murder trial where the main witness is a ghost. Bizarre, dark, funny and moving, The Poltergeist of Cock Lane is a musical investigation into one of the strangest corners of real London lore.

Cast

Richard Parsons – Alex Dee
William Kent – Alex Blackie
Doctor – Jamie Wright
Captain – Jon Bradley
Francesca Kent – Portia Criswick
Mary – Deborah Lowe
Elizabeth Parsons – Rachel Kitchen
Carrots – Rhoda Green
Judge – Nicholas Dore (Freddy Bowen: London previews)
Jailer – Joe Beecroft

Ensemble – Pollyanna McClachlan, Gemma Miles, Nicola Savage

Creative team

Damian Sandys – Director
Steven Geraghty – Musical Director
Freddy Bowen – Producer

Ben Waterhouse – Technician