Tom Worsley of Bête Noire Productions discusses bringing horror to a live audience with Father of Lies, a real-life horror drama.
For seven spine-tingling years the London Horror Festival has presented some of the very best comedy, cabaret and drama on the UK’s horror theatre circuit and, to my mind, 2017’s line-up was one of the strongest so far. From the knockabout lunacy of the Underground Clown Club’s Who’s There to Second Self’s gruesomely chilling The Men Who Made Frankenstein, every production was of a uniformly high standard, however were I forced to choose just one stand–out performance from the programme it would have to be Bête Noire’s chilling Father of Lies.
So what’s so special about Father of Lies? Well, the play is based upon an extraordinary real life murder case and Bête Noire’s meticulously researched two-person take on it was presented as a mix of TV style true crime investigative reporting, often directly addressing the audience with items of evidence, cut with dramatic interpretations speculating on what may have happened. Frankly it had just about everything you could want in dramatised horror; jealousy, possession, the renunciation of one faith for another, weird footprints in the snow, things in the attic that just can’t help but go bump in the night, a ghost, the cult of the Erlkönig or Alder King and occult symbols daubed on Bible pages, and the intensity of the performance gripped me from the start, kept me dangling on its hook, and finally left me questioning what really did happen at its conclusion.
Now that the show is about to be revived for London’s prestigious Vault Festival I decided to find out more about the case and the people who put it on the stage so I tracked down Bête Noire’s Tom Worsley and asked him to explain to us what the play was about: “Father of Lies tells the chilling true story of a mysterious and unsolved murder in West Germany in 1973. Part documentary and part performance, it’s as if Making a Murderer collides with Rosemary’s Baby in this sinister story of a haunted priest, a jealous widower and a satanic cult, in which we pose the question; is what you believe more important than what is actually real?”
The case in question refers to a priest who handed himself in to the police and confessed to a series of gruesome murders. However when the police attended the crime scene only the one body was found, a mystery yet to be resolved to this day.
Tom went on to explain the attraction of presenting the case to a live audience: “We believe that horror is an underrepresented genre in theatre, which is a shame because horror suits intimate, atmospheric, often dark, communal environments, where the audience’s imagination is free to run wild. We wanted to write a theatre show that scared and thrilled its audience without resorting to jump scares and shock factor. Don’t get me wrong, we think West End horror hits such as The Woman In Black and Ghost Stories are fantastic fun, but we found the most effective moments in those plays were the quieter, creepier scenes, where the dread and tension is amplified by being in close proximity to the stage and the actors.”
“We’ve been inspired and influenced by films like Rosemary’s Baby, Don’t Look Now and The Wicker Man, and Father of Lies is also inspired by true crime documentaries such as Serial, The Jinx and Making a Murderer, which have been enormously popular over recent years. The public is drawn to true crime as, like horror movies, they trigger the most basic and powerful emotion in all of us – fear. We want audiences to be able to experience this thrill live, following our investigation along to see if they can solve the case.”
“The audience reaction has been wonderful – we took the show to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe last year, which is always nerve-wracking with a new show – but we sold out! In the final performance, we had 90 people in our 60-seater venue!! People were crammed into every corner, sitting on the floor, standing on tables at the back – the atmosphere was electric! Then we sold out again at the London Horror Festival at Halloween, which was a dream come true. As horror fans ourselves, we know how passionate and loyal the horror-loving community is, and we are so happy that horror fans have found us and have come to check out the show.”
So what motivated Tom to bring live horror to the theatre?: “Well I met Sasha Roberts, my partner in Bête Noire Productions, ten years ago when we were both studying at Bristol University and we bonded over a shared love of horror films, everything from The Exorcist to The Evil Dead and literature ranging from Stephen King to HP Lovecraft. We both studied drama and we did lots of plays together while we at university – so when we moved to London we set up Bête Noire Productions so that we could carry on doing plays together in the “real world”. We’ve written, produced and performed in short films, World War Two romantic dramas and sketch comedies including The Rise and Fall of Daniel Lang which we performed at The Last Refuge, Forget Me Not at the Teahouse Theatre and the Guards Museum and Boys & Girls at London’s Tristan Bates Theatre and the Edinburgh Fringe – and then at last, we finally wrote something in the genre we love the most – a horror!”
And the horror does not stop there Tom and Sasha have plans for terrifying future Bête Noire productions: “We are currently working on two more horror plays! One is called The Demeter, based on the haunting episode from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, telling the story of the vampire count’s sea voyage from Transylvania to England. And we are also developing another true crime thriller – if Father of Lies is Making a Murderer meets Rosemary’s Baby, then this next one is Making a Murderer meets Night of the Living Dead!”
Tom and Sasha are excited about the forthcoming resurrection of Father of Lies: “We are thrilled to be performing at the Vault Festival from the 28 February to 4 March – it is London’s biggest arts festival, and the venue is so incredibly cool – in the vaulted arches underneath Waterloo station! We’re performing in their 90-seater Cavern venue, which is so atmospheric… it’s like an enormous cellar, which makes it the perfect space for our chilling tale of the occult! We’re also in talks with a producer who is keen to take the show to the Edinburgh Festival again, and then on tour after that – only in the UK for now, but to take the show to Germany, where the story is set, would be a fascinating experience… Sasha is fluent, but I would have to brush up on my German!”
For tickets and info about the Vault Festival visit vaultfestival.com. The London Horror Festival takes place from mid October as the nights draw in towards Halloween. Keep watching londonhorrorfestival.co.uk for news.