With less than a week before PLOS performs the premiere of The Poltergeist of Cock Lane at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, we speak to the show’s author, Tim Connery.
(The Poltergeist of Cock Lane, 2-12 August 2017, C Venues, Adam Street, Edinburgh. Click here for tickets).
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…”