by Margaret Chrystall
HALLOWEEN is the perfect season for Female Gothic – Rebecca Vaughan’s latest show celebrating spooky tales written by just three of the many women who flooded the huge Victorian market for dark tales.
But if the audience at Eden Court on Sunday catches a look of distress passing across Rebecca’s face, it’s less likely to be the horror of the tales she tells than the corset she wears under her Victorian mourning dress.
"My outfit has been made by a wonderful costume-maker called Kate Flanagan and really helps add to the atmosphere. The costume has all the corsets and underwear that you never see to create an authentic period outfit. So everything under the dress is all correct as well.
"I’m fully corseted in!"
Rebecca – who has already appeared in one-woman shows about Queen Elizabeth I and Jane Austen’s heroines – is always on the lookout for new ideas for shows with Dyad Productions company partner Elton Townend Jones.
Next year will see The Unremarkable Death Of Marilyn Monroe written by Elton coming to Eden Court.
But the idea for Female Gothic came when Rebecca was reading some classic horror short stories by M R James.
Rebecca said: "I’m a fan, as I think a lot of people are, of Victorian and Edwardian tales of the macabre in stories by people like M R James, Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Dickens.
"But in the introduction to the book I was reading it mentioned that 85 to 90 per cent of the macabre, ghostly tales so loved by Victorian and Edwardian readers were actually written by women.
"I thought that was strange because I couldn’t think of any of these women writers.
"So I did some research – and it was true.
"Some of the female ghost story writers are women we know for other things – E Nesbit who wrote children’s books like The Railway Children and Five Children And It. "But she has one of the most dark imaginations known to man and back in her own time was known as one of THE writers of dark, dark tales."
Rebecca also discovered writers she had never heard of before and others less well-known now but who had been huge in their day, like M E Braddon – "there’s only one of her books still in publication, Lady Audley’s Secret."
"But I discovered all this and thought ‘There’s a show!’.
"So I’ve taken three of these stories which are pieced together by my storyteller character who also has her own story.
"I wanted to make the piece visual rather than just a Jackanory-esque storytelling idea where someone sits and tells you a story. So I’ve the beautiful custom-made costume, great spooky lighting and a dark soundscape.
"The show’s for people who are interested in these kind of stories – or people interested in period drama and the dark side of that."
And it turns out that Rebecca had no need to fear that a modern audience – used to guts and gore movie horror – would find the piece tame.
"I worried that I might be laughed out of the theatre, that people are so used to more visceral horror nowadays that these stories wouldn’t chill people any more. But I was completely wrong. And I think that’s because these stories are all about the imagination.
"If you can ignite an audience’s imagination, they come on the journey with you.
"So, as a result, they are scaring themselves!
"There are definitely two moments in the show which should be quite spooky.
"But because it’s the Victorian/Edwardian era, it’s never going to be too bloody and horrible.
"It’s much more about that creeping sense of unease. So it’s great fun for me to do."
Now Rebecca is also working on a couple of other shows.
"We’ve just done an adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway at the Edinburgh Festival which starts touring next year.
"But I’ve got two new ideas for shows in my head which I’m researching at the moment.
"One is a follow-up to Female Gothic because it has been going down so well, a dark Christmas show with a chilling element but a sense of redemption in a Christmas Carol-esque kind of tale which will tour from next September.
"But I’m also writing something about female explorers through the ages – though I don’t quite know what that is going to be yet!"
And when Rebecca isn’t working she likes to indulge her spontaneous side in London.
The Dyad website reveals she "... can occasionally be found on the South Bank dabbling in a bit of street clowning".
"It’s a way of improvising – I’ve worked with a couple of great people who are into physical theatre.
"It’s a very fun thing to go into public spaces and see where it goes and react to the audience and cheer people up.
"When you’re used to scripted shows, it’s good to go out and have to be utterly in the moment!"
Rebecca Vaughan’s one-woman show The Female Gothic is at Eden Court on Sunday at 7.30pm