Something wicked this way comes. Out of the fog, laden with praise following another sell out season at the Edinburgh Fringe, emerge slippery comedy geniuses Kill the Beast.
The comedic theatre group’s latest production ‘Don’t Wake The Damp’ sees the five-strong team step into new territory, as they leave behind the rural village settings of previous productions ‘The Boy Who Kicked Pigs’ and ‘He Had Hairy Hands’ to take their audience into their warped imagining of the not so distant future.
The Beast are set to play four nights at The Lowry Theatre, Salford, from Wednesday through to Saturday as part of the theatre’s Halloween Spooktacular.
Tash Hodgson and Zoe Roberts, two fifths of the talented quintet, sat down to chat with Mancunian Matters about 80s horror films, the importance dark comedy and the power of the word crumpet.
Though inspired by the horror films and video games of their childhood, Tash and Zoe felt that ‘Don’t Wake The Damp’ presented them with a different challenge compared to their previous theatrical outings:
“With our third show we wanted to do something completely unique that didn’t hang on any pastiche or reference outside of our own brains,” Zoe explained.
“Because our first play was an adaptation, which obviously pens you in with what you’re going to create, it became almost like a series of sketches which were sewn together into a kind of dark kid’s story that was quite Roald Dahl-esque.
“Then for ‘He Had Hairy Hands’ we knew we wanted to do a Werewolf story, which allowed us to draw on all those amazing 70s horror films like ‘American Werewolf in London’ and ‘The Wicker Man’.
“But this time we’re not relying on any framework like that, it’s all kind of come from us.”
“It’s made this play much harder to write, but also really interesting. We still took in a lot of Sci-Fi films like ‘The Thing’ and ‘The Fly’ but none of them are out-right comedy, so we tried to experiment with the tension and release rhythm of those horror films and see how they work with comedy,” Tash adds.
The group, who formed at the University of Warwick, are deliberately aiming to create a more confined setting in their latest outing according to Tash and Zoe.
“We liked the idea of making the world in this play a bit smaller.
“The majority of the play is set in a tower block which has been abandoned because of ‘the damp’ which is growing in the basement, and we just deal with the stories of the three remaining residents who refuse to go and the councilor who is trying to evacuate them.
“We’re aiming for a pot boiler, almost claustrophobic, self-contained atmosphere as it just sort of heightens the tension. We wanted to have an enormous adventure happen within one location.”
Kill the Beast have been offering up their unique brand of horror tinged comedic theatre since 2012, but Zoe admits that audience reactions remain difficult to gauge:
“It is really hard when writing comedy to know how much the audience’s reaction should influence what you are doing, because audiences change so much on a day-to-day basis,” she said.
“One day you will come out thinking ‘God they really loved that character’ or ‘that bit went really well’ and then the next day it does not go well at all.
“So there is a danger of being too responsive and at a certain point you have to trust your own instincts and hold fast.”
Tash says she believes that sometimes the key to triggering the laughs is hidden in the finer details:
“Sometimes it can be as small as adding a word or a pause before the punchline to make something work, and you can just unlock the laughter.
“The word crumpet for some reason is guaranteed to bring the house down. Don’t ask me why but that word just always seems to get a laugh. If in doubt go to crumpet.”
You would think that after touring three successful shows in four years would be enough to keep The Beast busy, but irons are already in the fire for their next project:
“We get bored very quickly. Almost as soon as we have finished writing one play we’re asking ‘what’s next?’”, Zoe said.
“We would quite like to draw a line under these three and keep them as a parcel, and work on something that is a bit of a departure.”
“We would like to see how our comedy would translate into different media,” Tash adds.
“At the moment our work is so set up for the stage, but our creative brains are a bit itchy so we would really like to branch out.
“I think the world needs more dark silliness, we love proper stories that are also silly and dark, things like Psychoville, The League of Gentlemen and Fleabag.
“At the moment a lot of television comedy is focused on slapstick, which isn’t particularly intellectually inspiring, or old series are being re-commissioned which I find quite depressing, so hopefully we could offer something a bit different.”
‘Don’t Wake The Damp’ plays the first of four nights at The Lowry on Wednesday 26th October, with tickets still available at £12 for adults and £10 for concessions.