Black Shuck: Talking Genres, by Duncan Hands

You can see Duncan’s writing, Black Shuck, as part of the Wandsworth Arts Fringe 2016, 11-14th & 18-19th May at the Bedford, Balham – £10-12. Book your tickets now!

Writer of Black Shuck, Duncan Hands, writes about writing a comedy-horror…

One question which keeps arising now that work is starting in earnest on Black Shuck is, “how do you incorporate comedy and horror?” I have three answers, and the easy, trite but honest one is “I like both, why not put them together?”

But that doesn’t really help the poor actors and creatives who have to interpret my script so audiences enjoy watching them, so…

I’ve never said after watching a show, “yeah, it was alright, but I wish there’d been fewer jokes.” Nor have I complained about being moved or scared or shocked after laughing for an hour. That’s entertainment: Charlie Chaplin was the most popular comedian of his age because his films are packed full of melodramatic pathos, Shakespeare’s most brooding tragedy (set in Scotland) contains a hilarious pun-filled routine about brewer’s droop. Taylor Swift sings happy songs, sad songs, and angry songs. And Pinter is considered deadly serious, but while working on productions of his shows I’ve watched the audience roaring with belly-laughter. Yes, it’s wry, dark humour; but it pervades every one of his plays…except, as he pointed out, in the last 10 minutes of each.

Why?

Because making a play is merely a bunch of people collaborating to create a series of moments. If the moments are all witty, or all bleak, or all fey, it’s dull. If you switch between those moods, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts because of the juxtaposition. And if the characters’ world all turns to crap near the end, it’ll hit harder if we care about them, and especially if we’ve laughed with, or at, them.

Chaplin, Shakespeare, Swift and Pinter understand that. I’d be a fool not to learn from them. And it has the happy side-effect of killing snobbery: the Reithian ideal of combining entertainment and education, the ancient Greeks’ belief in art’s ennobling effect, it’s all hollow when you consider that we can all enjoy a good nob gag, and we all enjoy learning something. Both are ennobling, just in different ways. So the slightly longer answer to my original question is, “why be pigeonholed into one genre? Audiences are intelligent enough to take the show on its own terms.”

But…horror depends on suspense. Humour smashes suspense. These two facts mean that combining these two genres is a tightrope walk, and everyone working on it needs to know exactly what we want the audience to feel at any given moment. Don’t put a joke where it doesn’t belong, nor a jump moment. It helps that Blackshaw have put together a team who all enjoy dry, dark humour, but no element of the play should be at the expense of any other.

I’ve had to think why genres exist at all. Basically, I reckon, all works are formulaic. Someone comes up with a recipe, and if you stick to those rules you get a coherent result. Using music as an example, a Country song, a Grime tune or a Bach fugue all work because they stick to their respective rules. But then you break the rules, Johnny Cash puts trumpets in a Country song, Plan B uses an acoustic guitar, Beethoven puts a major 7th where Bach would use the safer minor 3rd, and it creates magic.

Fundamentally, I’m just not very good at following rules. I didn’t sit down to write either a comedy or a horror, I just had a story I wanted to tell, and told it as best I’m able.

You have to be careful mashing up genres, because it’s easier for audiences to know what they’re supposed to be feeling. This show’s not really a pastiche (horror, like film noir, is arguably reaching the point where pastiches are more familiar than the classics of the genre), it’s a medley. There are elements of other genres there too. If you find psychological thriller, sitcom, gangster heist, Theatre of the Absurd…you’d be right. I once heard a Director answer “if you see it, then it’s there,” to a Venue Technician’s question about the symbolism the tech thought he’d perceived in a particular prop book being green. I knew we’d picked a green book because that was the one on the top of the pile at the front of the store…but the director knew that there’s no wrong interpretation.

The genre question is one which has arisen throughout my career. And the best answer is “take it how you will. I’m just putting it out there. Whatever mood you come out feeling is right. So long as you feel something, I’ll be happy I’ve done my job.”

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You can see Duncan’s writing, Black Shuck, as part of the Wandsworth Arts Fringe 2016, 11-14th & 18-19th May at the Bedford, Balham – £10-12. Book your tickets now!

 

Black Shuck: Recording a radio drama

We decided to record our upcoming show, Black Shuck by Duncan Hands, as a radio drama.  Double the fun!  We hired the Insanity Radio studio at my alma mater, Royal Holloway University of London. You’ll be able to listen to the radio drama later this year, but no need to wait – come and see the show! Tickets available here.

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Rachel Nott, Andy Crane
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Rachel Nott, Alexander Pankhurst

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The Blackshaw Arts Hour – Episode 38

This week on the Blackshaw Arts Hour Matt and Vikki are in the studio with Iasha, Matt review Eye in the Sky and then we spoke about how it stood up to London Has Fallen in terms of a drone strike movie. Suffice to say Eye in the Sky won.

The wonderful Lesley Strachan crashed a Black Shuck rehearsal and interviewed Director Ellie and cast members Rachel and Alex.
Vikki did a review/Arts Thing of the Week beginning with The Maids and then talking about the importance of reviving specific plays.
Helen Johnson interviewed Duncan Hands, the writer of Black Shuck, about his writing process and how he developed the idea of the upcoming production.
Make sure you get tickets here, come along and say hi to the Blackshaw team at the Bedford, and subscribe to our podcast here to make sure you can always catch The Blackshaw Arts Hour and have access to all our bonus audio content.

New Writing Night – March 2016 (Showcase Award Shortlist)

Bruised by Hannah Puddefoot

Directed by George Islay-Calderwood

Emma – Lisa Ronaghan

Mike – Dan Burman

 

Cailleach Og by Gerald Moynihan

Directed by Jo Greaves

Cailleach Óg – Jo Greaves

Màire Mí Dhomhnaill – Natasha Colenso

 

Maybe God is Michael by Karen Bartholomew

Directed by Stephen Bailey

Paul – Robert Daoust

Helen – Hilary Buss

Vicar – Koullis Kyriacou

 

Parents by Dan Weatherer

Directed by Tutku Barbaros

Gilly – Daniel Garcia

Tom – Tom Slatter

Steff – Abigail Morgan

Marianna – Natasha Colenso

 

The Unexpected Guest by Rosie Marsh

Directed by Ellie Pitkin

Hannah – Angela Ferns

Sally – Emily Rae

 

Photos by Richard Stratton.

 

Black Shuck: An interview with Rachel Nott

UPDATE: See Rachel in the transfer at the London Horror Festival.

You can see Rachel Nott in the role of ‘Martha’ in Black Shuck by Duncan Hands, as part of the Wandsworth Arts Fringe 2016, 11-14th & 18-19th May at the Bedford, Balham – £10-12. Book your tickets now!

Ahead of rehearsals starting, we had a chat with Rachel –

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What are the particular challenges of this play?

Working with Alex, obviously… That aside, there’s a heck of a lot to learn! And the older I get, the worse my memory gets…

Have you done similar projects to this before?

Playing a smuggler? Can’t say I have. I’ve not been in a full-length two-hander before either, so I’m really looking forward to that.

What are you looking forward to at rehearsals?

We are definitely going to be doing a lot of laughing – to the point that we will need to make sure we actually rehearse the play. I also really love playing around with the characters in a rehearsal process – approaching situations differently and seeing what works. Often what you saw was one thing in the initial read-through can become something completely different after rehearsals.

Who are your favourite comic actors?

Hmmm… Steve Coogan, Kathy Burke, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Julia Davis, Mackenzie Crook, Kenneth Williams, Jack Lemmon (old school), Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Catherine O’Hara, Steve Carrell, Will Ferrell, Sandra Bullock… It’s a really long list. I feel bad for leaving people out.

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You can see Rachel Nott in the role of ‘Martha’ in Black Shuck by Duncan Hands, as part of the Wandsworth Arts Fringe 2016, 11-14th & 18-19th May at the Bedford, Balham – £10-12. Book your tickets now!

 

 

 

Black Shuck: An interview with Alexander Pankhurst

UPDATE: See Alexander in the transfer at the London Horror Festival.

You can see Alexander Pankhurst in the role of ‘Art’ in Black Shuck by Duncan Hands, as part of the Wandsworth Arts Fringe 2016, 11-14th & 18-19th May at the Bedford, Balham – £10-12. Book your tickets now!

Ahead of rehearsals starting, we had a chat with Alex –

Alex

Alex’s first answers…

What are the particular challenges of this play?

Working with Rachel Nott

Have you done similar projects to this before?

Yes. With Rachel Nott.

What are you looking forward to at rehearsals?

Rachel Nott.

Who are your favourite comic actors?

Rachel Nott. And Rowan Atkinson.

 

Alex’s revised answers…

What are the particular challenges of this play?

I think that the main issue doing this play (from my perspective) will be varying the pace. Because it’s quite a static piece (only set in one place) and there are only two of us, there is a danger that it could become monotonous for the audience. But I think that Blackshaw are well up to the challenge

Have you done similar projects to this before?

I have done a two hander before (An Audience with the Ghostfinder by M. J. Starling) so that’s familiar ground but every project is different so I’m just looking forward to seeing how this one pans out.

What are you looking forward to at rehearsals?

Absolutely. Working the Ellie and Rachel is always really good fun and they will inevitably have me in stitches.

Who are your favourite comic actors?

There’s so many to choose from, Rowan Atkinson has to be up there along with Julie Walters and Mark Heap but the list is almost endless!

Black Shuck WordPress image

You can see Alex in the role of ‘Art’ in Black Shuck by Duncan Hands, as part of the Wandsworth Arts Fringe 2016, 11-14th & 18-19th May at the Bedford, Balham – £10-12. Book your tickets now!

 

The Blackshaw Arts Hour – Episode 37

This week on the show Iasha was joined in the studio by Matt who reviewed new Disney animation Zootropolis.
We heard Ellie Pitkin Interview Tom Weston-Jones who told us about his career to date and his aspirations as an actor.
Matt saw The Caretaker at the Old Vic last week and we discussed the most noticeable mistake we’ve seen in a theatre production to date.
Helen Johnson will be on The Blackshaw Arts Hour next week interviewing Duncan Hands, who wrote Blackshaw’s upcoming production of Black Shuck. We heard a snippet of that in conversation interview so make sure you tune in next show to hear it in full!

NEWS – winner of 2016 Showcase Award

We’re thrilled to announce the winner of this year’s Showcase Award is Cailleach Óg by Gerald Moynihan.  We’ll be working with Gerald over the coming months, and producing a full-length performance of the show as an industry showcase in January 2017.

Cailleach Óg is a Gaelic mythological figure  – a change in direction from Gerald’s usual pre-occupation with social issues and more worldly concerns…

“I am the Cailleach, Goddess of Winter, Mother of Mountains, Ageless Lady of Dark Places, Ancient Crone of Wisdom. The Winter brings the Spring, and in death, I am endlessly renewed.”

The Blackshaw Arts Hour – Episode 36

This week on the show Iasha is joined by Matt and Andy.

Matt reviews 10 Cloverfield Lane and we also chat about London Has Fallen. Andy is in the studio to talk to us about the last episode of Great Expectations and the challenges and he faced during the course of this project.

The final episode of Great Expectations takes us to the end of the show. Don’t forget to tune in in two weeks time to hear our mystery interview by Ellie Pitkin and come along to Blackshaws New Writing Night at the Horse in Lambeth this Wednesday! Tickets here!