BWW Interviews: Artistic Director, Stewart Roche on THE JUDGE'S HOUSE
Purple HeArt Theatre Company's latest production "The Judge's House" opens in Bewleys Cafe, Dublin on Monday 29th. Adapted from a Bram Stoker short story...
"A troubled screenwriter struggling with an impending deadline, an infestation of rats, weighty tomes about the Celtic Tiger and a portrait seemingly with a mind of its own.... Spine-tingling, knowing and above all humorous. Ideal Halloween fun from one of Ireland's great horror writers"
BroadwayWorld caught up with its artistic director, and writer/adaptor, Stewart Roche.
Stewart, could you introduce Purple HeArt Theatre Company?
PurpleHeart was set up in 1999 with a view to staging Irish premieres of internationally recognised writers. Back then we felt playwrights such as Joe Penhall, Jez Butterworth and Tracy Letts were under-represented in Irish theatre and sought to bring these writers to a new audience. We focused on naturalistic plays initially but as a company we evolved and embraced different styles. We've also staged work by Irish writers in recent years.
Can you introduce "The Judge's House", and what drew you to this story?
The Judge's House is a classic ghost story by Bram Stoker. A student wanders to the outskirts of London to find a peaceful place to study and encounters the vengeful spirit of a Judge in his new lodgings. I was drawn to the story as it features one of the classic tropes of horror, the stranger arriving in a peculiar town where he meets his inevitable fate while ignoring warnings all along the way. As a huge Wickerman fan the chance to stage something like this proved irresistible.
...and in what way have you adapted it to a modern setting ?
I decided to modernise it for our portmanteau horror "Curious Tales" last year as I felt it was the most suitable candidate for this out of the 3 stories. Now he's no longer a student, he's a screenwriter who is struggling with a script he doesn't believe in but becomes "unblocked" in the house. This gives us a more plausible reason for his staying there despite infestations of rats and evil spirits. I also wanted an Irish setting to go along with the American and English ones.
It has sustained the change in setting and was by far the most popular of the 3 stories. So I feel a slight sense of vindication!
You adapted a couple of other Victorian ghost stories last year in "Curious Tales for Christmas" - is there anything in particular that attracts you to stories from this era ? Do you hope to adapt further stories over the next year or two?
I've always been a big fan of horror stories, the first 'proper' book I read was Dracula when I was 9 or 10 (I probably skipped on to the gory bits if I'm being honest). I'm also a Sherlock Holmes nut and became interested in the Victorian era through Conan Doyle and the graphic novels of Alan Moore such as "From Hell." I had a shortlist of stories for "Curious Tales" and some of those were incredible close to making the final cut so I have been thinking about revisiting them, particularly Jacob's "The Monkey's paw." I have a few writing commitments in the new year but I hope to start a long-thought about 4 actor version of "The Hound of the Baskervilles" in the Spring with a view to Christmas 2014. That was the second 'proper' book I read. 'Dracula" and "The Hound of the Baskervilles" both before I was ten. Explains a lot...
It can be a lot harder to scare people in a theatre setting compared to film. Are there any tricks you use to have the audience on tenterhooks, or do you take a more irreverent style which pokes fun at the genre?
It's very hard to scare people in the theatre, the most successful was "The Woman in Black" I think, which probably explains it's popularity "The Judge's House" for the most part is irreverent, you can (hopefully) see influences of Mark Gatiss and the League of Gentlemen or James Whale with "The Old Dark House" being a particular point of reference. Like those we play with horror staples and types and an audience's knowledge of them. This then works to your advantage when you reach a genuinely scary moment and pull the rug out from under people. This has never failed to make at least the front row of the audience jump. You'll know exactly the point I'm talking about if you see it!