Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Greg Hemphill on how The Wicker Man inspired his new play

Still Game star Greg Hemphill has got the fear.

The Still Game and Chewin’ The Fat star is in rehearsals with the National Theatre of Scotland for An Appointment With The Wicker Man, a play he wrote with Donald McLeary.

Their take on the 1973 creepy classic – once dubbed “the Citizen Kane of horror movies” with one of the most memorable and nightmarish endings in film – has singing, dancing and jokes.

Someone is going up in flames and Greg just hopes it isn’t him.

He said: “Somebody asked, ‘Do you think people will be picketing outside because you have put jokes in it?’ I said, ‘Yes, I would probably picket it myself because I love it.’

“There will be humour in it but we are not making fun of the film.

“I would call it a celebration of the movie. It is to The Wicker Man what Mamma Mia is to Abba, bearing in mind The Wicker Man is a horror.

“We want to give the audience frights, laughs and a good time and celebrate the music, score, story and fantastic ending.

“It will play like a horror comedy. The Wicker Man is all about the ending. You want people to come and enjoy the ride.”

An Appointment With The Wicker Man is set on a remote Scottish island, where the Loch Parry Theatre Players’ production of The Wicker Man is disrupted when their lead actor goes missing and they ask a TV detective from the mainland to step in and save their production.

The play parodies the plot of the original –starring Edward Woodward, Britt Ekland and Christopher Lee – which followed a policeman travelling to a remote island to search for a missing girl who the strange islanders claim never existed.

Greg’s show was originally intended to be a straightforward stage adaptation of the film – remade in 2006 starring Nicolas Cage. But NTS artistic director Vicky Featherstone suggested doing a play within a play. Greg said: “The story of the movie parallels the Loch Parry players, finding out what happens to their missing actor Roger Morgan. They are sort of intertwined and the line gets blurred between the two.

“The humour comes from this rag-tag group of amateur drama players trying to put on a horror movie.

“I think audiences don’t have to know the film back to front to understand what’s going on with our story.”

Greg, 42, who is married to actress Julie Wilson Nimmo, with whom he has two sons, has come to know The Wicker Man intimately. In preparation for writing the play, he watched the film 10 times, bringing his total number of viewings to around 30. But it’s been no hardship. He said: “A lot of films, when you watch them a lot, get less scary. But The Wicker Man never fails to unnerve you.

“I first saw it in 1986. I remember being horrified by the end. I didn’t think movies ended that way.

“As writers, we have nothing but respect for the film. It is a perfect story with an amazing ending.

“If you flip it comedically, it’s a joke – you have a great story followed by a punchline. In my opinion, it has the greatest ending in cinema history.

“But because it relies so heavily on this punch-to-the-stomach finale, there is not necessarily a value in adapting it slavishly. A surprise ending is only good at the time. It is going to lose its impact so we had to come up with something else which salutes it. That was our challenge.”

An Appointment With The Wicker Man, which stars Jimmy Chisholm and Harry Potter actor Sean Biggerstaff, will also see Greg teaming up with his Chewin’ The Fat and Still Game co-star Paul Riley.

Despite the reunion, a return to Still Game is unlikely.

Greg said: “You would be an arrogant fool to say it’s never happening again but it’s unlikely because I am not a fan of programmes that go away and come back.

“Comedy is lightning in a bottle. It speaks to a generation, to a certain time. I think when you bring shows back, you almost upset the apple cart with the audience.

“Sometimes the journey is better than the arrival. But who knows.”

Greg’s partnership with McLeary, who also writes Radio 4 comedy Fags, Mags And Bags and stars as Mickey John on CBeebies show Me Too!, has seen them write two films, now in development.

They are also due to film a pilot for their new sitcom, Blue Haven.

But first there is the burning ambition of An Audience With The Wicker Man to deal with. Greg said, laughing: “It says on the poster, ‘Someone’s going to burn for this’ – and it could well be us writers.”

An Appointment With The Wicker Man is on at His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen, from February 21 to 25; at Theatre Royal Glasgow, February 28 to March 3; Eden Court, Inverness, March 6 to 10; and the Alhambra, Dunfermline, March 21 to 24.

Source: Daily Record

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