Theatre review | The Gentlemen of Horror | Besties Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee take you backstage for a terribly nice chat
Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee defined an era of British horror, starring in a series of Hammer films together for 26 years. When they first worked together in 1957’s The Curse of Frankenstein and the following year’s Dracula, Peter Cushing was one of the most famous actors in Britain, while Christopher Lee was a virtual unknown. For the next quarter of a century, these two killed each other again and again on screen and became firm friends off. As Christopher Lee became internationally famous, Peter Cushing gradually retired into a quiet life by the Kent seaside. And yet neither quite lost their taste for gallows humour… The Gentlemen of Horror takes you backstage on Cushing and Lee’s relationship, into the dressing rooms of the films they made together.
Starring Simon Kane and Matthew Woodcock, directed by Kate Webster and written by James Goss, The Gentlemen of Horror plays at the Phoenix Arts Club from 2 to 7 August 2014, as part of the Camden Fringe (book tickets here).
Five trailers from Cushing and Lee’s exhaustive filmography leads us into five pivotel moments in the friendship of the two stars, beginning with 1957’s The Curse of Frankenstein, then Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968), The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973), Star Wars (1977) and finally 1983’s House of Long Shadows, the last film in which the two actors would appear together.
Writer James Goss has done a sterling job in condensing Cushing and Lee’s careers into a one-hour two-hander, with much of the dialogue culled from vintage interviews and the two actors biographies. Given that Cushing’s memoirs are much more candid than Lee’s, it’s no surprise that Cushing does most of the talking – and this is where the play is at its strongest. Cushing’s devotion to his beloved Helen is touchingly handled here, while the evening’s best moment comes when Simon Kane’s Cushing recounts how Jimmy Savile managed to get a rose named after Helen. But Kane ends the story with a joke about the predatory sex offender which literally brings the house down.
Kane and Woodcock may not look or sound like either Cushing or Lee, but they do a sterling job at bringing Goss’s witty and articulate script to life, relying on minimal props, set, wardrobe and make-up. This is an energetic, fascinating piece of the theatre and an affectionate love letter to two icons of British cinema.
Writer James Goss is a former producer of the BBC Cult website and has written a number of books in the Torchwood and Being Human series, a series of audio books (including 2010’s award-winning Dead Air, read by David Tennant), and adapted Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency for the stage.
Actors Simon Kane and Matthew Woodcock can be heard together as Sir Maxwell House and Roy Steel in Wireless Theatre’s podcast, The Monster Hunters. Simon has appeared on Radio 4′s John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme and Before They Were Famous, and has written for Mitchell & Webb. Matthew’s recent work includes The Saint Valentine’s Day Murder for Newgate Productions and The Legend of Springheel’d Jack and Sherlock Holmes Strikes Back with Wireless Theatre Company.
Director Kate Webster has produced and directed plays at the Edinburgh and Camden Fringes, and has worked with Midsommer Actors Company, London Bubble and The Pensive Federation.
Posted on August 2, 2014, in Hammer-Amicus-Tigon, Must-See and tagged Camden, Christopher Lee, Etcetera Theatre, Gentlemen of Horror, Hammer Films, Hammer-Amicus-Tigon, James Goss, Must See, Performance, Peter Cushing, Theatre review. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.