YORK spookologist and ghost botherer Doctor Dorian Deathly was to have swapped walking the (ghost) walk for talking the (ghost) talk for Halloween season, but Covid has “done a right number on him”, in the words of Deathly Dark Tours operations manager Dede Deathly.
Moving indoors from the city streets, Visit York’s New Tourism Business Award Winner for 2022 would have been presenting six fright nights of scary tales, spooks caught on film and ghost stories of England’s “most haunted city”, to be experienced from the relative safety of a seat at Theatre@41, Monkgate, from tonight until October 31. The performances will take place from January 24 to 28 2023 instead.
When the show does go ahead, the deadpan Doctor Deathly will present The Complete History Of Ghosts in A Night Of Face Melting Horror through a combination of stories, paranormal sciences, horror, theatrical trickery, original music and perhaps the odd unexpected guest at 8.30pm each night.
“Together we will huddle around the stage and explore spine-chilling tales of hauntings, both local and further afield, dissemble horrors captured on film and follow the ghost story through from its origins to the Victorian classics and modern-day frights,” says Doctor Deathly, whose face-melting macabre amusements are suitable to age 13 plus as he considers what makes spines shiver and examines our obsession with tales of death, murder and hauntings.
Doctor Deathly was struck by the idea of doing a show at Theatre@41 after seeing Pick Me Up Theatre in The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾ The Musical last December. “It sparked the bit of the brain that causes trouble!” he says. “Rather than just having our ghost walks for Halloween, which we know will sell out, I thought, ‘let’s do something here’.
“During the last couple of years, we were doing lots of online events, streamed on Facebook during lockdown to thousands of people around the world. There are only a certain number of ghost stories for York on a prescribed route, when people want to see Shambles and the Minster, and we thought, ‘how can we show different things?’.
“We came up with the online show Tales From The Fireplace, where people would send in ghost stories and pictures and videos of encounters with ghosts. It was essentially like a TV show, where we got a few funny ones sent in; we were coming at it from that angle, analysing them and breaking them down. Some were brilliantly well written.”
This prompted Doctor Deathly to construct A Night Of Face Melting Horror. “First and foremost, it’s entertainment. People love ghost stories and we thought, what if we flip it on its head and people have to come out to the theatre to celebrate ghost stories from the wild?” he says.
“The thread through the show is the history of the ghost story, talking about the origins of those stories, what they come from, their place in both texts and the imagination. Then we look at how it exploded in Victorian times with huge interest in these stories.”
Born in Scarborough, Deathly’s inventor, actor Jamie McKeller, moved to York in 2004/2005, first performing in A Christmas Carol at the Castle Museum and with Lee Harris and The Dreaming in Terry Pratchett’s Rincewind.
“I’d been to York on fleeting visits, then I was getting on the train here to rehearse. One day I was walking through York, and it was snowing, and I popped into a coffee shop. Looking out at the Minster, I remember thinking, ‘how can I not move here?’.”
For 15 years, he was a professional actor. “It’s exhausting, a grind,” he says, delighted to now have a constant, stable income as a ghost walker. “It’s my company too, so I can do these crazy things.“
Part of York’s Guild of Spookologists , alongside Mad Alice, Shadows Of York (Mackenzie Crompton) and Damian Freddi’s Dark Chronicles, Doctor Dorian Deathly’s Deathly Dark Tours has taken on a second York tour guide to meet demand, Dorian being joined by Dafydd Deathly, from Wales.
“He ran virtual tours for us in Edinburgh and now he’s come back to York, I asked him if he would join me because the tour is so busy. We run six nights a week,” says Doctor Deathly.
“We did two shows a night in Summer 2021, but it’s a very non-traditional ghost tour, very theatrical, very big, with magic tricks. It’s very tiring! 30-year-old Jamie doing that each night, fine; 42-year-old Jamie, maybe not!”
Why, Dorian, are we drawn to the horror, the horror, of ghost stories, especially in York? “It’s that obsession with fear, but why do we do that to ourselves?” he asks himself. “Why do we like putting ourselves in that situation?
“The opening song in A Night Of Face Melting Horror poses a question: I directly ask, ‘what’s wrong with you, with all of us, in a world of The Great British Bake Off and The Great Pottery Throw Down, why are you here, for this show full of ghosts, in a world of such niceties? That’s the answer we’re looking for; the answer to that!”
Why does York suit ghost storytelling, Dorian? “I have friends who are tour guides around the country and sometimes I feel sorry for them because they have to talk about things that are no longer there in their city. But in York you can see a piece of wood dating from the 12th century, and you watch Americans blink as they take that in,” he says.
Once back to full health, his acting side will flourish once more as Jamie takes on the role of the baddie, the Sheriff of Nottingham, in Rowntree Players’ pantomime, Babes In The Wood, at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, on December 3, 4 and 6 to 10. Box office: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.
Doctor Dorian Deathly’s A Night Of Face Melting Horror (or The Complete History Of Ghosts), Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, will not run from October 26 to31, 8.30pm nightly, after all as a result of illness. The new dates will be January 24 to 28 2023. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.
For more information on Doctor Dorian Deathly’s walking tours, visit www.deathlydarktours.com or call 07851 032041.