Project: Tales of Court Hey

In July 2022 I was asked to write a short play for Prescot-based Imaginarium Theatre, a community-based performing arts company (and associate company of the Shakespeare North Playhouse) with whom I’ve worked on and off since 2016, playing such roles as Caliban in The Tempest, Friar Laurence in Romeo and Juliet and the Spirit of Christmas Present in A Christmas Carol. This project was commissioned by One Knowsley for the Knowsley Feel Good Festival and Knowsley Flower Show, held on 6 and 7 August 2022.

The brief was to create a fun and fast-paced family show about the history of Court Hey Park, where the performances were to take place. With the help of the Friends of Court Hey Park and Knowsley Council, I delved into the archives and picked out a handful of historical episodes that would give an entertaining and informative glimpse into the park’s past.

The writing process was not without its challenges – not least my coming down with Covid a few days in – but the resulting performance was tremendously fun and brilliantly received. It focused on the life of Robertson Gladstone, the 19th-century merchant and politician (and brother of Liberal PM William Ewart Gladstone) who built Court Hey Hall, a mansion that stood on the present site from 1836 to 1955. Part-Carry On, part-Horrible Histories, The Gladstones of Court Hey may have been an absurdly comical farce, but it was very much rooted in the facts, touching on politics, religion, the social realities of Victorian life and the story of the Gladstone family, warts and all. The framing scenes, involving a pair of present-day police officers and an over-enthusiastic archaeologist, highlighted the family’s legacy, and how the Gladstones’ love of the outdoors and support for education lives on in what takes place in Court Hey Park today.

The play was written for a cast of three, who handled a colourful array of props and underwent multiple costume changes, switching breathlessly between approximately 15 different roles. Their improvisational skills and knack for audience interaction brought the script alive, engaging crowds ranging in age from toddler to pensioner.

The project was funded through a Knowsley Heritage Grant, via One Knowsley and the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Pictured, top: Director Gaynor La Rocca, actors Rachael Reason, Francesco La Rocca and Kieran McCarthy-Hoare, and yours truly, the writer. Photos: Kristian Lawrence

Dracula (1958)

For the 30th anniversary edition of Eric McNaughton’s excellent We Belong Dead magazine, contributors were asked to write about their favourite horror films. Mine was an easy choice: Dracula, the 1958 Hammer production starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.

The studio was to make several outstanding films over the ensuing couple of decades, but rarely did all the elements combine in such perfect balance as they did here, arguably the pinnacle of Hammer’s achievement in the realm of the Gothic. As a child, I succumbed easily to the film’s charms; Hammer had me in its grasp, and neither it nor Dracula has let me go since.

If you want to read the c2,000 words before it, or any of dozens of lavishly illustrated articles on horror films ranging from Häxan, Halloween and Psycho to The Wolf Man, The Wicker Man and The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue, buy a copy directly from the We Belong Dead website.

Look out for my article on the 1956 film of The Hunchback of Notre Dame in the upcoming ‘Euro Horror’ edition, too.

Event: In the Grip of Hammer

My friend and colleague Robert JE Simpson and I will be in conversation on Thursday 13 January at 9pm GMT. The event is live online and is free to attend. Hopefully we’ll attract a few followers from our Hammer-related Twitter accounts (mine is @HammerGothic, and Robert’s is @exclusivephd), and there’ll be time for some interaction and a Q&A. From Cinepunked:

Thursday 13 January 2022, CinePunked presents In the Grip of Hammer.

In the first of a new occasional series of CinePunked conversations with fans, enthusiasts, and collectors, our very own Robert JE Simpson will be in conversation with David L Rattigan (himself no stranger to CinePunked) about their shared love of classic Hammer Films.

Robert JE Simpson is a film historian and cultural commentator, previously worked as the official archivist for Hammer Films, and is currently writing a book about the early history of Hammer’s sister company Exclusive Films. He tweets about the project at @exclusivephd.

David L Rattigan is a freelance writer and editor with a Hammer horror obsession, and for the last year has been tweeting about his love for the films over at @hammergothic.

Robert and David have a long-standing working relationship and have collaborated on a number of magazine, book and podcast projects.

Hammer Films are perhaps best known for their series of gothic horror films produced in England between 1956 and 1976, including popular series of Frankenstein and Dracula features starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. In 2006 the company went back into production and has produced a stream of horror films in the years since, including Wake WoodThe Woman in Black and The Lodge.

The conversation will be live-streamed via the CinePunked YouTube channel, and will include an audience Q&A. Robert and David will not just be talking about Hammer horror, but the company’s other output, and what fandom means to them.

Bookmark the channel now.

View the event page on Facebook.
Bookmark CinePunked YouTube channel.

Dracula Has Risen from the Grave – but Is God Back in His?

This post is part of the 2021 Hammer-Amicus Blogathon

There was little ambiguity concerning the existence and role of God in the films of Terence Fisher, the director whose vision for the Gothic helped shape ‘Hammer horror’ from the studio’s first colour period horror film, The Curse of Frankenstein (1957).

Continue reading “Dracula Has Risen from the Grave – but Is God Back in His?”