Beware headless horseman as Corrie stars Bill Ward and Wendi Peters bring Sleepy Hollow horror story to York Theatre Royal

Wendi Peters and Bill Ward in the artwork for The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow, touring York Theatre Royal from tomorrow (5/10/2021)

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?!”

Bill Ward in rehearsals at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley, for The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow

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 Peters during rehearsals for her role as Mariette in The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow

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.”

The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow playwright Philip Meeks

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.

“Hopefully, when people see our production, they’ll take away more than just an image in their heads,” says Wendi Peters

“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

Harrowing horror of the headless horseman rides into the haunted York Theatre Royal

Bill Ward and Wendi Peters in a scene from The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow, bound for York Theatre Royal next week

THE Headless Horseman is galloping apace towards York Theatre Royal for the Haunted Season.

Coronation Street alumni Wendi Peters and Bill Ward will lead the cast in Philip Meeks’s stage adaptation of Washington Irving’s The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow, on tour in ever-spooky York from October 5 to 9, 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. Who can tell truth from nightmare, however?

Enter Ichabod Crane into an eerie world of secrets and unsettling tradition as he arrives in Sleepy Hollow to become the town teacher. While quickly finding friendship with the town patriarch and his spirited daughter, his presence is not wholly welcome.

Not all is as it seems, for Ichabod Crane harbours his own dark secret. He is not in Sleepy Hollow by chance. When disturbing events overwhelm the small town, he finds himself swept up in a dangerous mystery that leaves him doubting his own sanity.

Director Jake Smith says: “Sleepy Hollowis undoubtedly one of the greatest horror stories ever written and a tour de force to stage. The story has at its heart the power of nomadic storytelling and gathering round the campfire for a good story. It’s an important story for now as we look at conversations around the identity of nations, communities and humankind throughout the world.

“This production has allowed an incredible ensemble of actors to viscerally and inventively bring the Hollow to life. It’s a piece that shines on our actors’ athleticism, which is really exciting as we look to theatre returning. We look forward to transporting the audience through a quest of logic and illusion, creating fear and defying expectation.”

Wendi Peters in rehearsal at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley, for her role as Mariette in The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow, on tour at York Theatre Royal from next Tuesday

For Philip Meeks, The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow follows the 2017 premiere of Murder Margaret And Me into York Theatre Royal, where earlier his play about the dying embers of a pantomime dame, Twinkle, Little Star, ran in the Studio in April 2008.

“I’m a huge horror fan; the history of Gothic, the history of horror; if I was going to do an MA, it would be on the horror medium,” says Philip, who shares an agent and indeed an imagination with director Jake Smith.

“The agent lives in a caravan in Marsden Grotto, next to Mam’s house in South Shields. There was a project I was working on where it looked like the director was going to drop out and I said, ‘what about Jake doing it?’, as I’d heard good things about him.

“Now, I like to think of us as Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee! He’s got this great visual energy as a director and the work he’s done has all been fantastic.

“We think very much alike and sometimes it’s hard to know who’s the 50-year-old [Meeks] and who’s the 30-year-old [Smith]!”

Playwright Philip Meeks: “Chipping in from the corner in rehearsals”

Smith, who stayed with Meeks when he was holding auditions, has been drawn to horror previously, doing a “sort of Hound Of The Baskervilles before the current plethora of productions of that story”. “He does a lot of writing too, and we have the same sense of humour, laughing a lot even when we shouldn’t,” says Philip.

“As a result, I’ve been in rehearsals a lot, with me as the Richard Osman figure on Pointless, chipping in from the corner.”

What drew Meeks and Smith to The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow? “It’s a piece that’s not really been done a lot before, probably because it’s a short piece , but it’s a story that people turn to in times of existential fear,” says Philip.

“It’s not about blood and gore; it’s about people in society, exploring human nature, thinking, ‘My god, how would I cope?’.

“It came to the fore in the late 1970s/1980s when there was the last horror boom because of the fear of nuclear war and the apocalypse, and in 2021 what we’re afraid of is the breakdown of society. The most popular form now is folk horror, and Washington Irving’s story was the first example of that.

“America was not the home of horror but they certainly explored it there, and Washington Irving really did explore it, writing at a time when narrative fiction was quite new.

“He was a journalist and a factual writer who dabbled in fiction, but he wrote his factual pieces very buoyantly with a great prose style, and that’s why his writing captured the imagination, because it was very accessible.”

Bill Ward in the rehearsal room for The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow

Meeks’s play is a “true act of adaptation, taking these characters and the story into a different medium”. “The legend is told to scare off Ichabod Crane, and we’ve kept that but we’re telling the story with a contemporary twist.

“I wanted to put a heart into it, using the device of a confidante for Ichabod, so I’ve created Mariette, played by Wendi Peters.”

Philip is hugely influenced by Hammer Horror, “even though people think of those films as being schlocky, especially with the Dracula franchise at the end”. “The story I’ve chosen to tell has a lot of elements from Hammer Horror, aside from its themes of corruption or belief or lack of belief.

“Ichabod only believes in science and technology; the rest believe in god knows what. The future is ichabod thinking he is God, so there’s the dawn of scientology.

“But with a monster you must bring an element of heart and humanity to them, like with Frankenstein’s monster.”  

The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow runs at York Theatre Royal from October 5 to 9, 7.30pm, plus 2pm, Thursday, and 2.30pm, Saturday. Box office: 01904 623568 or at

Copyright of The Press, York