Do you dare join us for our spine-tingling film of chilling ghost stories this Halloween?
With its flickering candlelight and dark, shadowy corners, our Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is the perfect setting for three petrifying tales
This All Hallow’s Eve, our Sam Wanamaker Playhouse will be taken over by three spine-tingling ghost stories from Edgar Allan Poe, Sami Ibrahim and Abi Zakarian as part of Deep Night Dark Night.
Edgar Allan Poe is known as the king of mystery and the macabre, and his classic tale of a haunted conscience, The Tell-Tale Heart, is a trademark of the Gothic-horror genre, but what about our other chilling tales of the evening?
Sami Ibrahim’s 50 Berkeley Square draws on the legends surrounding the haunted townhouse on Berkeley Square in Mayfair, London. The townhouse has a sinister reputation as being the most haunted house in London, with petrifying tales circulating in the late 19th century of a ghostly spirit in the attic, residents slowly going mad, and terrifying screams and the sound of gunshots in the night…
‘Ghost stories are bollocks. But you don’t have to believe me. You don’t even have to believe the ghost who told me this story.’
— 50 Berkeley Square
Talking of these legends, Sami says “I’m not really a believer in ghost stories, but I think I was drawn to the legends of 50 Berkeley Square because everything felt quite vague: people often talk about a ‘thing’ or an ‘apparition’ haunting the attic, but there aren’t many specifics. Unlike with many other ghost stories, which have a very specific legend attached to them, 50 Berkeley Square felt like a blank slate which I could add my own interpretation to. It felt like an excitingly modern take on a ghost story to have characters who are almost aware that they’re starring in their own ghost story.”
Sami’s 50 Berkeley Square features two male protagonists, James Mallord and Robert Warboys. James is fictitious, but Robert Warboys was a real-life nobleman who didn’t believe in ghosts and scoffed at the idea of the townhouse being haunted. In 1840, he stayed the night at 50 Berkeley Square to fulfill a bet with his friends. Robert spent the night in the attic, and (very small spoiler alert) ended up dead, after gunshots were mysteriously fired in the night. From there, Sami’s tale departs into “an imagined retelling of what might have actually happened on the night Robert Warboys died. Albeit with a lot of artistic license and a few invented characters.”
Abi Zakarian’s I am Karyan Ophidian draws on Armenian folkloric traditions and the horrific events at the start of the 20th century: “I’m half Armenian, and you learn very quickly from a very early age, that barely anyone has heard of Armenia or knows anything of the horrific genocide suffered in 1915, and it’s subsequent denial and lack of recognition.” It was because of this that Abi wanted to explore the idea of what real true horror is in this modern age, as well as “how inherited historic traumas, the denial of horrific deeds and the subsequent repeating of such deeds can be very much taken from my family heritage.”
We spoke quick, urgent tales; recited names, lit flames and then disappeared in ash. But the wind carried the smoking words and the few with limbs left, with lives left, they told the stories again. And again. And again. Never could we be diminished entirely, this proud race, this untidy caravan.’
— I am Karyan Ophidian
The telling of horror stories is rooted in many cultures’ folkloric traditions. Abi has written a modern character, Karyan Ophidian, telling her own story, but also that of hundreds of years ago: “I used the Nhang legend from Armenian folklore because it seemed apt to have a shape-shifting creature who was able to pass through generations unseen to continue the myth, avenge the past and continue the traditions. But also to play with the idea of the fear of the unknown, the fear of ‘the other’, which is very much a horror being stoked by the media and governments these days.”
Historic Armenia is very old and the roots of its storytelling culture can be dated back to around 300 BC where the usual pantheon of native gods were worshipped. Alongside all the gods, there’s a myriad of mythic beasts and spirits, and its from this that a culture of folkloric song and storytelling began.
The protagonist in I am Karyan Ophidan is a fictional character, but Abi drew heavily on her childhood memories of the stories her Nana and Mother would tell about her Grandpa, Hovannes, who died before she was born: “I think because all I know of him is from what my Nana and Mum told me, he feels like a mythic figure to me which ties into the idea of carrying on traditions and not forgetting the past, however painful. The name Karyan means ‘the dark one’ in Armenian which is why I chose it for the character – she is described as having black hair and black eyes but also moves in shadows and is rooted in a generational mythic bind too. Her surname is a bit of gift really; there’s a joke that you always know an Armenian because of their name – all Armenian names end in I A N or sometimes Y A N so the phonetic sound is ‘ee-yan’ and the zoological noun for a snake is ‘Ophidian’…when I found that out the character kind of named herself. And if I’m honest I think there’s a little part of myself in Karyan too.”
Of writing two new unsettling tales for the flickering candlelight of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, both writers commented on its unique atmosphere: “the moody, candlelit ambiance is unbeatable”, says Sami, “I wanted to make sure I was fully embracing the spooky atmosphere of the Playhouse, whilst feeling relevant to a 21st century audience.”
Abi agrees: “I always think of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse as like a tiny jewel box of a theatre; the layers of meaning and history, both real and recreated, in that place are intoxicating. The pure theatre of the candlelight, the bare bones staging and the sheer drama of it all is just gorgeous and a dream to write for. I knew I wanted to directly address all of that magic and have Karyan speak to the space itself as well as to the audience. She is very aware of being a different kind of voice on that stage, in that space, and I think she deliberately places herself in it and uses her powers to own it. It felt important to amplify a voice, a heritage and history that is never given space in theatre too.”
These three terrifying tales will be brought to life by Paul Ready (The Tell-Tale Heart), Andrius Gaučas (50 Berkeley Square) and Jessie Bedrossian (I am Karyan Ophidian).
So, dim the lights, light some candles and settle down on your sofa (cushion to hide behind optional…) for an evening of thrills and chills.
Do you dare to join us?