Features Published 2 October 2014

Dark Place

Kill The Beast's Clem Garritty discusses sources of inspiration and the process of creating the company's distinctive visuals.
Clem Garritty

“Your face… has startling possibilities.” It is said that James Whale, the visionary British director of countless Universal horror pictures in the 1920s and 30s, said these words upon noticing Boris Karloff one day in the canteen at Universal and realizing he had found his monster for the movie Frankenstein.

Essentially this is also where Kill the Beast began, friends from university and bonded by a shared love of British comedy and horror, we were all able to see the disgusting possibilities within one another’s monstrous faces from the get-go.

pigsOur first play, The Boy Who Kicked Pigs, was an adaptation of Tom Baker’s little-known cult novella of the same name and had running through it that sick streak of dark humour which, like Roald Dahl, R.L Stine’s Goosebumps, Der Struwwelpeter etc. interested and excited us as children. It also came with fantastic illustrations by David Roberts, which evoked the world with a sharp, inky quality that immediately began to inspire the look of the piece. Using spiky, rigid lines to create the shapes of his characters, Roberts’s drawings bring to mind the stylised nature of early German expressionist cinema – this lead us to begin working with projection.

I have always loved behind-the-scenes featurettes on DVDs, and especially love seeing set-designers creating tiny intricate miniatures (of Hogwarts, Helms Deep, Wallace and Gromit’s workshop, the insides of Tim Burton’s brain) within which they film. Therefore, hampered by a small budget and the desire to create whole worlds with each scene, we set about making a series of miniature sets (using the talented hands of Bryan Woltjen) which we could fill with detail, film and then project as huge backdrops to each scene.

morepigsWe enjoyed this process so much that we have carried it through to our second show He Had Hairy Hands, an original piece again inspired by horror cinema (with a distinctly British feel). This time we have moved slightly further down the evolutionary path of horror cinema and found our inspiration not in the 1920s, but Hammer’s buttery-coloured pictures of the 60s and 70s.

hairy-2Like the projections, the costumes are also finely detailed pieces of art created by our costumiers Nina Scott and Rachel Owen. Also heavily inspired by horror/comedy references that influenced the script, the costumes are further linked to the world by the use of a single patterned fabric, which is used throughout all of the costumes and projections. Therefore aprons and skirts look as though they’re made from the same materials as the backdrops and if you look closely at the projections you’ll notice it in curtains, carpet, wallpaper, ceiling tiles and even the pieces of paper dripping out of the photocopier. The resulting effect ends up looking somewhat like The Wicker Man as performed by The Von Trapp family.

babyHe Had Hairy Hands takes place in the fictional village of Hemlock-Under-Lye, a shabby little place surrounded by misty moorland. To further evoke the landscape and encourage the idea of a creeping threat, the costumes are all laced with patches of mould and moss, as though the villagers have been there so long even the countryside has forgotten about them.

The distinctive lighting that our designer Elliot Griggs employs within our shows is another creation born from necessity. As we back-project against our large screen, we cannot light the performers from the front (as we traditionally would) without casting huge shadows against the screen and bleaching out the projections. Therefore we light almost entirely from the wings, sidelights creating sharp, stylised shadows and shapes that again evoke a more cinematic style.

shinyEssentially our visual style is born from the same hodge-podge of influences that have inspired our script, characters and performances, and although most of the design decisions have been carefully crafted and created, some have also been birthed by accident – rather like a certain hairy baby in the opening scene of our current show.

He Had Hairy Hands is at the New Diorama, London, until the 11th October 2014

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