An Interview with Actors Bill Ward & Wendi Peters from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
Actors Bill Ward and Wendi Peters discuss working on The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, which is coming to York Theatre Royal, 5-9 October.
How would you describe the show and your character to someone who hasn’t seen the production?
Wendi: It’s a folk horror – intriguing, scary, clever, witty with spectacular illusions. You’ll be on the edge of your seat! My main character, Mariette, is the strange widow of Sleepy Hollow. She lives on the outskirts of the village, alone, and has a few secrets that are revealed throughout the play. She takes Ichabod under her wing when he arrives and insists that he stay with her.
Bill: The show is a high energy edge of your seat thriller. Part horror, part comedy. Very physical. Think Hammer House of Horror meets Kneehigh. We’re all multi-role-ing, which will be great fun. My main character is Baltus Van Tassel, who’s the elder statesman of the village who’s trying to keep the village together during some pretty tricky times. But I also get to play a naughty 90 year old female cook, a hard drinking coach driver, and a crazy delusional Dutch captain – what’s not to like?
What was it that initially drew you to the play?
W: I loved the script, it’s very clever, with multi role playing which is always great fun. I couldn’t put it down. I’d never seen the film but knew of the story. This is a completely new, and wonderful, adaptation by Philip Meeks. I’ve also never appeared in a horror piece, so was intrigued by that… it’s really exciting!
B: The story – it’s a classic. I was particularly intrigued as to how they were going to do the Headless Horseman. There’s a fair amount of magic both in the story, and also our telling of it. Putting that kind of a thing onto a stage is always good fun. Plus the physicality. I like doing plays where movement is an integral part of the show, and this is very much like that.
Were you familiar with the original Washington Irving text, or had you seen other adaptations of the tale prior to taking on this role? Will you be drawing inspiration from them?
W: I wasn’t familiar with the text, and I’d never seen the film. I knew the story, and started watching the film, but 20 minutes in I stopped it. It’s so very different from our adaptation, and, if I’m honest, I wasn’t really enjoying it. Our production is so much more exciting and moves at such a fast pace. I’m seeing this as a whole new piece of writing and story, and I love the idea of creating something from scratch.
B: It’s obviously a very famous tale – a classic – but actually I hadn’t read it till now. I loved it. It’s surprisingly short as a story, only 20 to 30 pages long. What’s interesting about that is that the shell of the story, the structure if you like, is there, but what each adaptation does is to fill in the (considerable) blanks for themselves. What the original story is big on is mystery, and mood – so I’m sure we’ll be taking a fair bit of that and sprinkling it into our production.
Have you worked with any of the cast/ creative team previously?
W: Most of the cast are a lot younger than me, so our paths haven’t crossed. It feels strange to now be the mother, sometimes grandmother, of the cast. I guess I’m getting old. However, Bill and I worked together at Corrie. We were there over the same four year period but our characters were rarely in the same storyline. It’s going to be great to catch-up again after 14 years!
B: Yes, I was lucky enough to work with Wendi for four or so years, quite a few years ago now on Coronation Street – great fun. I was playing a pretty nasty piece of work, Charlie Stubbs, and I remember the show would often cut from scenes involving my character wandering around being hugely unpleasant, to Wendi’s character Cilla mucking about in a bubble bath with the family dog. Great fun. I also know the writer Philip (Meeks) from Panto amongst many other things. Not only is he a great playwright and screenwriter, he’s also a rather brilliant dame. We worked together up in Sunderland a few Christmases ago. Happy days.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow promises to shock and scare audiences. What scares you the most?
W: I’d say, on the whole, I’m quite a brave person although I don’t like, or watch, many horror films. I don’t really believe in the paranormal. I once did a ghost hunting programme, and found it quite funny. Having said that, I don’t like the dark much, especially in the situations I’m unsure of.
B: Heights. Can’t stand them. Will do anything to avoid them. Urgh.
The Headless Horseman is a legendary figure in the horror genre. Why do you think this character has stood the test of time?
W: I think it was one of the first horror stories written, and creates such a vivid image in people’s heads… hopefully, when people see our production, they’ll take away more than just an image in their heads.
B: Because it plays to our imaginations, and to one of our strongest emotions: fear. Fear of the dark. Of death. Of the fantastical. Of being caught in a chase you cannot possibly win – the stuff of nightmares the world over. The Headless Horseman was arguably one of the first true horror creations – larger than life, and truly unforgettable.
What do you want audiences to take away from the production?
W: It’s been such a terrible 18 months for theatre, both actor and audience wise, that I think everyone will be thrilled to be there and just be entertained. As a piece, I’d like them to come away having been scared and on the edge of their seats, but also having relaxed and laughed. They will go away with a few questions too, hopefully.
B: The thing that theatre does so well: that sense of being transported, for a couple of hours, to another world entirely. It’ll be an energetic, enjoyable, scary, funny, night out. And I really think we’ve all missed that, as a country, and as a community over the last 18 months – that sense of being out, together, having fun, sharing and telling stories.
You’ve both had quite an eclectic career, on stage and TV. What is the biggest difference between performing on stage and screen?
W: I’ve been so lucky, having worked in all aspects of theatre, tv and radio. I love that it never seems monotonous or boring, and enjoy learning new things too. The main difference is the level of playing. On stage you are performing to hundreds and have to make sure the back row is included. I love touring because you are in a new space each week to explore your performance. TV is much more intimate and held back. I love doing both, but if I had to choose one for the rest of my career, it would definitely be theatre.
B: Rehearsals! They pretty much don’t exist in television any more, certainly not in the Serial Dramas/Soaps. That’s one of the things that makes TV so invigorating to do: bringing your performance in on the day, standing, and delivering, knowing you have 40 minutes to nail it. But I love the sense of exploration you get with theatre: that sense of looking at a piece of writing (particularly a new piece of writing like this) from a number of different angles, and directions, trying all sorts of things out on the rehearsal room floor, and seeing what best serves the play.
What are you most looking forward to while on tour?
W: Seeing a couple of theatres that I haven’t worked at before, but mainly just being back on stage, entertaining audiences, and doing the job I love.
B: I’ve always been a bit of a traveller at heart. I’ve been round the world with a backpack a couple of times. So I love getting out and about around the country, especially to towns and cities, and theatres, I haven’t spent time in before. A real treat. Oh, and I’ll be taking my camera, as always…
‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ is at York Theatre Royal, 5-9 October.
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