Stewart Pringle, Director of the London Horror Festival
Darkness is the key ingredient when it comes to fear, says theatre director, writer and producer, Stewart Pringle. But you need a lot more to pull off a horror show. “Sound has to be perfectly timed to the lighting, music needs to be composed, there’s blood, effects, make-up, sets. It’s not a minimalist genre.”
While achieving an end product that’s more The Shining than Buffy The Vampire Slayer is a challenge, the pay-offs are high. “The really exciting thing is that you can generate a really visceral reaction from an audience,” says Pringle, who lives in Peckham. “You see them jump. We’ve had people fainting, throwing up and running out.”
When he’s not directing, the 26-year-old creates scary play concepts. Having always been a horror fan, three years ago he co-founded dark London-based company Theatre of the Damned, with pal Tom Richards.
Now, the pair are taking things further with the launch of the London Horror Festival, Courtyard Theatre, in Hoxton until November 27. Its three shows an evening celebrate horror in theatre, comedy and music, and viewers are promised black humour, grisly psychodrama and a lot of gore from its modern shows and classic adaptations.
And it’s through a love of being scared that Pringle does it. “It gets your adrenaline going. To have an audience who believe enough in the fate of a character to be jumping and crying out in fear is a great kind of escapism.”
Careena Fenton, Show manager at Warwick Castle
Careena Fenton, 38, runs attractions like the dungeon at Warwick Castle and works with actors to make sure they’re as scary as possible.
“To get the best screams, they have to have real intent and viciousness behind their eyes,” says Fenton, who lives in Leamington Spa. “Snorts generally do the trick as well.”
Unlike her previous theatre experience in stage magic, Fenton also has to help calm people down when things get a bit too much. A “code rainbow” (when someone throws up) happens about twice a week. Less often are “code red” – when someone needs first aid because they’ve fainted – and the ominous “code brown”.
But usually, things don’t get quite as harrowing. “Hearing screams then laughter is the most rewarding thing – people are shocked, then they laugh because they know they’re safe.”
Matthew Clarkson, Marketing executive for London Dungeon
As marketing executive, Matthew Clarkson’s job is to promote the London Dungeons – essentially, to sell the fear. From his office, which is in the dungeon, he regularly hears blood-curdling screams from visitors. It makes a change from his last role in corporate marketing for Burger King.
“The best thing about working in the dungeon is seeing people’s reactions. When people scream, they instantly follow that with a laugh,” says Clarkson, 26, who lives in Richmond.
“Coming close to people’s faces then making a loud sound always gets them. Even if they know you’re coming.”
But Clarkson admits he gets scared at times too. “I came into a pitch black dungeon. Didn’t know where anything was and was stuck next to a gargoyle with blood coming out of its mouth.”
Matthew McMaster, Scare actor at Scream, Madame Tussauds
“Fear is a great equaliser. I’ve seen plenty of big beefy guys walk through and squeal like pigs in fear of a girl or a guy half their size. Often they’re the easiest to scare,” says Matthew McMaster, who lives in Surrey.
After he finished drama school, the Johannesburg-born actor, 28, went for his role at Scream (an attraction in Madame Tussauds made to look like a maximum security prison) because he loves all things macabre. He slaps on a good layer of theatrical make-up then for nine hours a day, McMaster plays what he calls “extreme hide and seek”.
And how do people react to his antics? “Most people jump,” he says. “But occasionally someone will be genuinely terrified and just break down, then we may have to lead them to the exit.”
Maintaining non-stop energy while running around like a crazy person all day, says McMaster, is the most challenging part of his role. “But it’s the only job in the world where you can run at full speed at an old lady or small child and scream at them without getting arrested!”