7 Questions for Director David Griffiths about ArtsGroupie’s next production
What first attracted you to The Signalman?
Having collaborated with ArtsGroupie Creative Director John Maguire on last year’s Ghost Stories For Christmas, we were very keen on continuing our momentum with more adaptions of dramatic works of horror.
The Signalman is, in many respects, the perfect ghost story. It’s claustrophobic, has great imagery, characters struggling to define what they’ve experienced and an ending that ties everything together beautifully. And crucially, for the purposes of adapting it, the ghost is a representative of the terrible guilt held by the signalman himself – which has given us plenty of scope to examine and flesh out those characters for stage.
I’ve previously adapted the greatest ghost story ever told – Dickens’ A Christmas Carol – so I love playing with his characters and adding to the great wealth of adaptations; putting my own interpretation out there.
The Signalman was famously adapted by the BBC as their 1976 ‘Ghost Story For Christmas’. I’ve deliberately avoided watching it during the writing process to avoid being influenced, but I suspect it will be vividly etched in to the minds of some of our audience.
Dickens wrote the story after a rail accident at Staplehurst, can you tell us a little more about that?
The original short story was published at Christmas in 1866. It was written a year after the Staplehurst rail disaster, in which a train derailed while crossing a viaduct killing ten passengers and injuring forty. Dickens was on the train and tended to the victims, some of whom died whilst he was with them. Some of his accounts of the scene are truly terrifying and were written within days of the tragedy.
Naturally, it had a lasting effect on Dickens; he lost his voice for two weeks and was nervous travelling by train thereafter. The Signalman can be interpreted as Dickens attempt to deal with the post traumatic stress that consumed his later years. He died five years to the day after the crash and was considered to have never really recovered from it.
What frightens you?
It’s difficult to specifically pinpoint a specific thing, but I fear things that are completely outside of our control. Weather, for example. Laying awake at night in that hyper-aware state you find yourself in when you can’t sleep. A howling wind displacing tiles, torrential rain battering the window whilst the fence rattles uncontrollably. If the house blows down now, what can I possibly do about it? In the light of day, it might seem silly – but flash floods sweeping people away, images of people fleeing from oncoming tsunamis with no possible means to escape…
The venues are all very different, what are you looking forward to with this little November tour?
I think every venue will give our audience a truly unique experience. We’ve designed the show to be portable and resilient to different venues and setups. So, I’m excited to try different spaces and configurations. Every time I think that I’ve decided on my favourite venue, I’m reminded just how good the rest are!
If you could have dinner with five Horror writers, dead or alive, who would they be and why?
Extremely tough question. First, I’ve got to include Ramsey Campbell. We’ve been so fortunate to have his involvement in Ghost Stories For Christmas these past two years. He’s a gentleman and his contributions to the genre are vast. I’ve learned a lot about embracing your home town in your writing from Ramsey, who captures Liverpool perfectly.
It would be foolish not to include Charles Dickens - The Signalman and A Christmas Carol being so close to my heart. Plus, he’d be great company at the table as a fellow thespian!
John Carpenter would have to be there, as the man who defined horror cinema (and he could provide the music for the evening!).
I’d love to speak to Mariana Enriquez, who is one of my current favourite horror authors.
And my final guest would be Nigel Kneale who wrote some of the most important pieces of horror and science fiction that were ever broadcast – he had the keenest eye in all of television for social commentary. A writer way ahead of his time.
So that gives me an author, a performer, a filmmaker, a journalist and a screenwriter; each of them at the top of their game. And I didn’t even get to invite MR James or Stephen King! Maybe they can pop out for drinks after the meal.
What other productions have you got planned next?
We’ll be going straight in to our second year of Ghost Stories for Christmas right after The Signalman. I’m already working on some new material and researching some classics to bring in to our repertoire. After that, there’s a fair bit of writing to get boxed off. I’ve had an audioplay in my sights for a while and will likely look to get that into production in the new year. But before you know it, we’ll be looking at Ghost Stories For Christmas 2024!
Any advice to writers/people who would like to get involved with the arts?
Find a local community theatre that matches your drive and enthusiasm and learn every aspect of production. It’s extremely unlikely that an unpublished writer will hand off a script to a producer or director without having to be involved in the production itself (who else could be as enthusiastic about your work, after all?), so learning how to manage a production from beginning to end is a worthwhile skill to have. I’ve heard writing tutors tell playwrights not to worry about costs or set or cast size – that’s a concern for the producer. I think that’s the worst advice anyone trying to break in to writing for stage can hear.
Ghost Stories for Christmas 2023 at The Storey
Saturday, December 2nd 2023 3.00pm
Saturday, December 2nd 2023 7.00pm
Ghost Stories for Christmas 2023 at The Hornby Room
Thursday, December 7th 2023 4.30pm SOLD OUT!
Thursday, December 7th 2023 6.30pm SOLD OUT!
Thursday, December 14th 2023 4.30pm SOLD OUT!
Thursday, December 14th 2023 6.30pm SOLD OUT!
Ghost Stories for Christmas 2023 at Shakespeare North
Friday 15th December, 2pm – 3.30pm [NEW DATE ADDED!]
Friday 15th December, 7pm – 8.30pm [Sold Out]
Saturday 16th December, 2pm – 3.30pm [Sold Out]
Saturday 16th December, 7pm – 8.30pm [Sold Out]
Become an ArtsGroupie!
Join our mailing list and be the first to hear about new ArtsGroupie walking tours and forthcoming events.