We were in the audience for Halloween Dukeanory last week which featured six creepy stories, one of which was by myself, and one by Kerry. It was a great night and at the end of it I realised I was experiencing something I had never experienced before.
Dukeanory is a bit like Jackanory in that it features stories read by actors. It is based at the Dukebox Theatre in Hove, hence the name, and this year it was also part of the first Brighton Horrorfest.
I wrote a two-part ghost story for last year’s Dukeanory but we were booked to go on holiday when the event took place (the timing was unfortunate, the holiday was lovely!)
I’ve often wondered how it went. Especially now that I’ve seen how it works with actors reading stories from books. Last year, the only stage direction I gave was that the second part of the story was read by a man covered by a white sheet. Did they go ahead with this? Did they read from the book held under the sheet, giving the impression of someone hiding under the covers to read past their bedtime? Or did they hold they book outside the sheet and look like a rather academic Pac-man ghost? It’s impossible to know. It’s one of the enduring mysteries of our time.
This year, each story would be linked like in one of those classic old horror anthology films. The theme was, ‘The Box’. As Kerry and I sat having a drink in the bar before the show started, I began to feel nervous. It was not like the pre-gig nerves of doing comedy, but more like the feeling I get before we put on a Charity Chuckle: you’re not a performer, so you can’t warm up, or practice, or do anything to effect the outcome. All you can do is hope that it all works out.
Eventually the theatre opened and we filed in. There was hardly a spare seat in the house! We sat at the back as the room darkened. All we could see on stage, beyond the silhouetted heads of the audience, was a single red leather arm chair, and standing next to it, a small decorative table on which was displayed a large ornate wooden box.
Different actors took the stage in turn to read the six stories. Kerry’s was fourth and went down very well. It was probably the most horrific as it was about a serial killer and featured multiple murders. But also had a dark humour to it that meant it got the most laughs of the night!
The fifth story was not mine. This meant that my story would be last! (I had suggested as much in my email when I sent it off. This was only because the apocalyptic nature of the story would be difficult to follow, of course, and not because of my own terrible vanity).
I was very pleased that it would be read by Andrew Allen, who runs the night and therefore presumably has the pick of the stories. As he began reading, I realised I was experiencing something I never had before.
I’ve written and performed stand up. I’ve written and performed stories. But I’ve never had the sensation I did last night of sitting in the back of a darkened theatre and seeing something I’d written performed in front of me.
I heard my own words being performed by an actor onstage… and they sounded good! No doubt this was mainly down to Andrew’s performance skills. But I had been very worried that the story I had submitted last month wouldn’t be up to scratch. I was pleasantly surprised. I kept turning to Kerry and pulling faces to indicate various levels of excitement (a practice that confused her immeasurably and possibly even distracted Andrew on stage.)
Afterwards we were both on a bit of a high. It reminded me a bit of the adrenalin rush after doing my first stand-up gig. I look forward to writing again for a performance. I might try one of the short play-writing competitions that Cast Iron offer here. Thanks very much to Andrew for the opportunity.
What do you think? Have you had a similar experience of writing and performance? Have you seen your work on stage? Did you go last year’s Dukeanory and can you let me know how it went?! Please let me know in the comments on the top left of this article.