BILL Ward and Wendi Peters, who shared four years together on Coronation Street, are reuniting for the Haunted Season at York Theatre Royal.
From tomorrow to Saturday, they will be taking prominent roles as Baltus Van Tassel and Mariette respectively in Philip Meeks’s stage adaptation of Washington Irving’s The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow, replete with illusions by Back To The Future Musical’s Filipe J Carvalho.
In Irving’s infamous story, Hallowmas celebrations are fast approaching, when the residents of Sleepy Hollow spin tall tales of legends and unsightly entities, but who can tell truth from nightmare?
Enter Ichabod Crane into an eerie world of secrets and unsettling tradition as he starts his teaching post. When disturbing events overwhelm the small town, however, he finds himself swept up in a dangerous mystery that leaves him doubting his own sanity.
Here Bill and Wendi discuss their present and past roles, horror stories and what scares them.
How would you describe the show and your character?
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 playing, 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?!”
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.”
What drew you to the play initially?
Bill: “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.”
Wendi: “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!”
Were you familiar with the original Washington Irving text, or had you seen other adaptations of the tale, and will you be drawing inspiration from them?
Bill: “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.”
Wendi: “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.”
Have you worked with any of the cast or creative team previously?
Bill: “Yes, I was lucky enough to work with Wendi [Peters] 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.
“I also know the writer, Philip [Meeks], from panto among 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.”
Wendi: “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.”
The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow promises to shock and scare audiences. What scares you the most?
Bill: “Heights. Can’t stand them. I’ll do anything to avoid them. Urgh!”
Wendi: “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.”
Why has The Headless Horseman – a legendary figure in the horror genre – stood the test of time?
Bill: “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.”
Wendi: “I think it was one of the first horror stories written and creates such a vivid image in people’s head. Hopefully, when people see our production, they’ll take away more than just an image in their heads.”
What do you want audiences to take away from this production?
Bill: “The thing that theatre does so well: that sense of being transported, for a couple of hours, toanother 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 ofbeing out, together, having fun, sharing and telling stories.”
Wendi: “It’s been such a terrible 18 months for theatre, both for actors and audiences, 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.”
What is the biggest difference for you between performing on stage and screen?
Bill: “Rehearsals! They pretty much don’t exist in television anymore, certainly not in the serial dramas and 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.”
Wendi: “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.”
What are you most looking forward to while on tour?
Bill: “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.”
Wendi: “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.”
The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow, York Theatre Royal, October 5 to 9, 7.30pm nightly; 2pm, Thursday; 2.30pm, Saturday. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.