A Ghost Story…


With the last few days seeing ‘The Screw’ becoming tighter and tighter, it is time to finally turn it in front of its audience. The curtain goes up on our Halloween piece this evening and I know those of us who have been involved in it for the past few weeks are ready for it.

As said previously, this is a different sort of Matchbox evening. Under the aegis of the Matchbox Sized Shakespeare Company, it is smaller in scale and less formal with the audience invited to bring its own drinks and nibbles. A series of readings set the tone and the mood and then the centrepiece event, ‘The Turn of the Screw’ itself. And, as director of that piece, I could not be more pleased with the work that all involved have put in to this production. Everyone who has worked on it have approached it with the kind of commitment one would wish for one of our regular productions; none more so than Kay and James who have worked so hard together to produce a wholly engrossing, encapsulating and atmospheric hour and ten minutes of theatre.

I wish everyone involved well and hope that, should you be coming this evening or tomorrow you will enjoy and get a taste of the real essence of Halloween behind the pumpkins and the plastic vampire teeth.


M x


Things that go bump in the night.

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I do like a good ghost story, me.

That said, I don’t mind admitting that invariably I will end up sitting there (or more usually lying there) afterwards with slightly teary eyes and palpitating heart wondering if that sound of scratching on the roof is some nocturnal animal taking shelter for the night or if something far more sinister is trying to seek entry to my domain.

There is a line I dimly recall from ‘Improbable Fiction’:

‘Some people when they are woken in the middle of the night by banging, they hear burglars- or they hear ghosts- or the central heating boiler about to explode…’

I am definitely one of the ‘ghost’ people; burglars invariably wait until I am out and my boiler is too unreliable to get anywhere near exploding!

And yet, despite the sleeplessness I might incur, I absolutely LOVE horror. I watch horror films, I read horror literature, I play horror board games, I adore horror videogames- turn off the lights, adjust the volume and let the madness begin! But why? What is it that compels me and so many like me- horror, unlike so many genres in the various media of entertainment has always remained extraordinarily popular- to screw our courage to the sticking place and confront our fears, be they knife wielding psychotic, demonic presence or simply an age old phantom walking the earth over centuries of despair? I suppose the truth is that we NEED a good fright: I am sure that a psychologist would be able to explain it in terms of complex biochemical cerebral reactions, but for time immemorial our tales have been inhabited with ghastly apparitions, beasts and spirits that could only be considered as otherworldly. Think of how many ancient myths are populated with bestial entities that would gleefully rend hapless soul limb from limb, or hack and slash or swallow them whole;how many sorceresses or witches would work spells to give one their life’s desire or commit them to purgatory; how many spirits would cry out for vengeance or demand payment in the gloomy underworld? How many fairy stories have had at their heart a vengeful witch, a dark and twisted dwarf or fearsome giant to ‘grind your bones to make his bread’?- a truly gruesome image when one thinks about it and yet I learnt that story aged five.

Consider how often ghosts and grue appear in Shakespeare, be they Hamlet’s father or Banquo’s spirit, Romeo and Juliet’s suicide or Gloucester’s eye gouging, or Tamora eating her own children baked in a pie! In fact ‘Titus Andronicus’ would give many a modern day gorehound a run for their money with its extraordinarily graphic content, grotesque violence and unremitting brutality.

Imagine how the original audiences of all these tales would have felt at a time when the supernatural world was as much part of the fabric of reality as the sun rising and the rain falling.

Of course, we are a lot more rational now, and I think our horror stories reflect that . Vampires and werewolves are no longer the province of horror but more likely to pop up in action/adventure or as sparkling angsty teens trying to cope with the complications of their love lives rather than the hideous nightmare of feasting on blood and the misery of eternal life. Our horror villains now are invariably…well…us. In an age when barely a few days can pass without the media reporting some atrocity carried out by persons known or unknown, involving deeds of horrifying violence, be they terrible tales of gun crime,grim discoveries of limbless torsos or catalogues of evil as the secrets of the latest serial killer are revealed, our literature and entertainment media have responded by making the creatures of horror the human being. Yes, sometimes they are transposed through the lens of the supernatural, be they hockey mask wearing unkillable maniac or fedora sporting, razor fingered murderer from the world of dreams, but more often than not in today’s horror the antagonist is just another human with a desire to kill in as gruesome or heart-wrenching as fashion as possible. Scooby Doo had it right all along.

Or did he?

You see, despite so many other supernatural beasties being relegated to the fringes of the genre, the ghost story is one staple that doesn’t seem to go away. Yes, there are plenty of people who don’t believe and consider that any such tale is nothing  more than hokum, but consider how many films today rely on the premise of such paranormal activity. How many programmes are dedicated to seeking out wayward spirits (usually through the green haze of night vision)? How many games have as their central premise things to make the player jump and go rushing for the light? And how many novels and plays still thrive on a good old fashioned ghost story? Indeed, the second longest running play in the West End (musicals aside) is The Woman in Black and that is only beaten by the venerable staple, The MouseTrap (and is also clear evidence that sometimes film is no substitute for live theatre).

There is no question, many more than I love a good ghost story. Why? Well, as said, I think we have a need to be scared and I will consider that in my next blog. But with Halloween drawing closer, for many the world of the supernatural is pulled into tighter focus  than it usually is across the rest of the year. The whole thing is awash with commercialism of course, and THAT is for another blog, but more so than any other,  it is a time for telling a good old fashioned scary, spooky story or two. And that is what we are doing with our ‘Turn of the Screw’ this Friday and Saturday. Maybe we might see you there.

Don’t have nightmares. 🙂

M x

The Turn of the Screw


So what lurks in the shadows of the Matchbox Theatre, spoken of yet largely unseen, glimpsed but not fully revealed? The time has come to unveil this apparition of darkness and the next event on our theatrical calendar, our’ Entertainment for Halloween’.

In a break with the conventional three performances a year, the 30th and 31st October will see the return of the Matchbox Sized Shakespeare Company and a selection of macabre tales, eerie events and spine chilling stories in keeping with the Halloween season. Formed as a banner under which  slightly more alternative products might be performed, the MSSC, just as the RSC from whom it takes an element or two of its name, does not deal wholly in Shakespeare (although the Bard might well make an appearance into the evening’s activities) and instead the evening will be a more informal collection of tales from a variety of sources. Cabaret in style,  patrons will be afforded opportunity to eat and drink whilst enjoying a selection of readings and performances from the literary canon of tales ghostly and imaginative, culminating in the main event, a powerful and brooding rendering of Henry James classic psychological ghost story The Turn of the Screw.

Adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher, screenwriter of such films as The Duchess and the recent Ian McKellen movie Mr Holmes alongside many highly successful plays for theatre, this late Victorian novella is condensed into just over an hour and is told by but two actors using minimal set, props and sound, evoking atmosphere from lighting and the performers themselves. That those two actors are K isom and James Mercer should only further convince any reader familiar with their work that this is an evening not to be missed and one that, whendone, will leave plenty to discuss as the witching hour draws near.

In the spirit of ‘bar shows’ or ‘weekend slots’ hosted by other groups in the community this is not  an ‘also ran’ event but a piece as well prepared, rehearsed and designed as any that have gone on during the year with two truly outstanding performances at its heart. The tales you will hear are the classic stories with which so many of us have grown up: this is not a night of lunatics in hockey masks or with gloves made out of razors but of classic tales that your grandparents would tell huddled round the fire in the dead of night, albeit with a modern twist. There is something here for everyone, whatever age, colour, creed or belief and there is no question that this will be a marvellous complement to an already successful year at the Matchbox, and a great way to enjoy the two nights before All Hallows. We hope that you will be there.

Details available by clicking the link below:

Ticket order form

The Age of Steam


And so, October is upon us, bringing with it colder nights, shorter days, darker mornings and a buzz of activity at St Francis as, after the long summer break, preparations for the Matchbox Theatre’s winter production get underway. It seems an age since the lights went down on the hugely entertaining ‘Improbable Fiction’, and it is certainly a lot cooler in the church hall since those sweltering days, but the cobwebs have been blown away and work has begun on our end of year production.

Directed again by Vicky Pearce, ‘The Railway Children’ is hot off the West End stage with its professional run originally set to come to a close just last month. It continues its tenure at Kings Cross station through to the beginning of next year but, for patrons of the Matchbox there is no need to shell out those West End prices as this classic E Nesbitt story will be brought to life in St Francis church hall at a mere snip this December.

I am sure many will be aware that, alongside the classic story, the play boasts incredible special effects including a live steam train in its Kings Cross setting. Ever ambitious and not afraid of a challenge, as anyone who saw the deft switching of time and space and the marvelous spectacle of space pods and STJs in ‘Fiction’ will attest, Vicky is bringing a flavour of that to West Wickham, and that in itself is going to be worth the asking price! That the play has many of the Matchbox finest swelling its ranks only sweetens the deal. It is early days yet but as rehearsals progress be certain that the Matchblog will be there to update and provide more details as they become available.

As said in my previous missive, there is much to impart, and ‘The Railway Children’ is not the only entertainment that the Matchbox theatre is preparing this year. something else looms, something darker, altogether more chilling and dangerously compelling…

…But I cannot rehearse it now, a shadow draws across the moon, my time here is up and I must be away, but be sure I will return soon and will bring with me a story of terror..and horror…and death. A tale to make the very heart- stop!

Until then