Butley Priory inspires family-friendly, Gothic stage drama
PUBLISHED: 12:12 08 April 2019
Creepy Gothic tales are timeless storytelling favourites. We talk to poet and theatre-maker Murray Lachlan Young who combines tradition with technology in an exciting new stage show
There’s something wonderfully atmospheric about spooky tales told to a live audience. It’s the modern equivalent of ghost stories being recounted to villagers gathered round a communal fireside. The Mystery of The Raddlesham Mumps, written by poet, broadcaster and performer Murray Lachlan Young, has been turned from a book into a family-friendly theatrical extravaganza.
The story, told in the form of an epic poem, was inspired by Suffolk’s Butley Prior, nestled in the wild Suffolk landscape between Woodbridge and Orford.
The Mystery of the Raddlesham Mumps reflects Lachlan Young’s passion for sweeping, Gothic and absurdly comic children’s poetry. With ghosts, witches, fairy folk and a classic tussle between good and evil, the poem has been developed as a book, a CD, and an interactive Virtual Reality experience as well as a lively theatre performance.
The contemporary chiller with a Gothic sensibility is touring across Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk throughout April before extending its run into Devon and Cornwall. Accompanied by music from award-winning jazz instrumentalist Arun Ghosh, Lachlan Young will perform his witty and darkly comic three-act verse in what he describes as a flamboyantly theatrical and mischievously irreverent style.
“As a child I was fortunate enough to be told lots of stories. I was read verse by my mother, people like Hilaire Belloc, Doctor Heinrich Hoffmann and Edward Lear. At the same time, I was also listening to my parents’ entire record collection. Everything from early Bob Dylan and The Beatles’ White Album to Johnny Cash, Gilbert and Sullivan and the brilliant 1941 recording of Peter and the Wolf, scored by Prokofiev with narration by Basil Rathbone. They were all storytellers with unique voices - and I was utterly fascinated.
“So, here we are at the gates of The Raddlesham Mumps. I only hope this work, made with the help of a brilliant creative team, helps to continue in the tradition of all the voices – lyrical and musical – that went before, and hopefully inspires a few more, young or old, to join in this ancient and modern tradition.”
The tradition may be timeless but Lachlan Young’s presentation is completely contemporary combining theatrical poetry with a characterful jazz score and state-of-the-art virtual reality elements.
Inspired by Butley Priory’s Gothic spookiness, The Mystery of the Raddlesham Mumps places young, innocent, curly-haired Crispin, at the centre of a creepy story. When the brave young hero, inherits his parents’ stately home, the eponymous Raddlesham Mumps, the seven-year-old begins a bizarre and entertaining voyage of discovery. With Kenilworth, the ancient butler, as his guide, Crispin gradually learns the truth behind the untimely deaths of his deeply eccentric ancestors.
From bare-knuckle fighters and intrepid explorers to bell-bottomed hippies and Brit-pop clubbers, Murray Lachlan Young takes the audience on an historical and hilarious rollercoaster of rhyme.
Murray, what was it about Butley that fired your imagination?
“The whole thing started when I was in Suffolk seven years ago, staying at Butley Priory which is a fabulously Gothic place. From Edgar Allen Poe, to The Brothers Grimm and the films of Tim Burton, we have a love and a history of romantic Gothic horror stories which excite and chill us in equal amounts. The Mystery of the Raddlesham Mumps is very much in that tradition. Gothic storytelling is a form of literature that people have a lot of affection for.
“It’s not a case of terrifying you out of your wits, but it’s dark and it’s sitting on that line, where the experience is fun but there is an element of anticipation that something terrible could happen. It’s all about tone and all the best Gothic stories have got that tone right.
“My story is definitely creepy, a little bit scary but it’s balanced with some wonderful humour which plays with a sense of the absurd and the ridiculous, which I’ve always been a fan of – so I don’t think anyone is going to get nightmares.”
Braving a scary story as part of an audience is a collective experience and therefore a form of safe scared.
“Yes, that’s true. It makes it an adventure and this story has a big twist in the story which makes it more fun when you are seeing it with a big group of people. I think in today’s very fast, information-technology-driven culture, the idea of theatre and live entertainment telling a story, of us as people, has never been so important.
“I have always been a lover of live performance because it gives you so much more. You can receive spectacular images through a screen but a live performance utilises all your other senses. Everything is heightened in the theatre, your sense of smell, the feeling of warmth from the lights, the buzz of a live audience, that sense of excitement of watching something being performed for you; in that moment. It’s incredibly special. Magical, I would say.
Raddlesham Mumps is a unique blend of traditional storytelling, theatre and use of new technology. Can you tell us a little of how it came about?
“It started as a book illustrated by Julie Verhoeven, a very brilliant illustrator best known for her work in the world of fashion and brought up two doors up the road from me in Sevenoaks. Then we did the album with Arun Ghosh, the jazz composer, and we are using the music from that as part of the live show and now we are incredibly fortunate to be able to work with the University of Essex to create a virtual reality element to the production.
“The whole story is set in a huge tumbledown house which seven-year-old Crispin inherits on the deaths of both his parents. He is alone in the house with his 100 year old butler who says ‘Isn’t it strange that both your parents died in such peculiar circumstances and that’s how the story begins. The virtual reality elements transport us, as Crispin, up a flight of stairs into the attic where he explores and finds objects which are interwoven into the story. So you get more of the story going into the virtual reality experience. I am excited by the idea that the visual elements of the show can reach out to different audiences. We are going to have some of the experiences set up in the foyer of the different theatres we are going to.
It sounds an incredible undertaking, how long has it taken you to bring all these different strands together?
“After we published the book I sent it to Matthew Lindley, a producer who worked at Eastern Angles for a time, he read it and was excited by it and we set about turning it into a stage experience. Matthew is a very dynamic person and the majority of the show, apart from the original story, has been driven by him. I love that the other performer Joe Allen is tiny and I am really tall, so there is wonderful dynamic on stage.”
The Mystery of The Raddlesham Mumps, will visit eight venues across the country between April 11-28 including Lakeside Theatre, University of Essex; Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh; Quay Theatre, Sudbury; Wilton’s Music Hall, London; Exeter Phoenix; The Acorn, Penzance; The Plough Arts Centre, Torrington and Norwich Playhouse.