Monster Show is an uncompromising attempt to re-dub every moment of audio from this black and white horror classic. As the iconic 1931 film Frankenstein plays silently in the background, a lone creature stands on stage to perform the live score. From deep inside a quite frankly ridiculous costume, they attempt the impossible task of delivering the entire soundtrack using just one voice in a trans act of purging outdated narratives and championing radical bodies. We spoke to the creator Hester-Stefan Chillingworth about the project.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and your work?
My practice sits at a crossroads of theatre, live art, visual art and writing. It’s a practice of inbetweenness and overlap which celebrates liveness and slippage.
I’m interested in the grey areas in life, and my work is committed to undoing things which claim to be fixed. I started off as a theatre director but I ‘fell off the edge’ of that and into live art, where distinctions between performance, dance, pop culture, activism and critical thinking are joyously and intentionally blurred and porous. I’ve heard my work described as “very singular”, meaning it’s not like other things. I’m very happy with that description of it.
What was the inspiration behind performing the audio of the movie Frankenstein?
I made a piece called Home Correspondent in 2016 where I listen to Radio 4 live on headphones for 8 hours, vocalising everything as I hear it, and Monster Show is a deeper exploration of that performance mode. Something really interesting happens when you funnel multiples voices/characters/scenes/sounds through a single voice. We get to feel the humour, inconsistencies and problems more clearly somehow. And the effort of the attempt to voice an entire sound score, while buried deep inside a costume, is for me a powerful way to investigate being queer and non-binary in a cis-het world, which I experience as being in a state of multiplicity and plurality but within a restrictive and limiting frame.
When was the first time you saw the film and what was your first impression of it?
I think it was in about 2018. I was mainly surprised by the gentleness and childlike qualities of the monster, as opposed to the crazed and threatening character I was expecting because of how it’s been warped through popular imagination.
Are there any challenges to performing a show like this, especially as a solo artist?
Loads! It’s a very physically and vocally challenging task. So there’s lots of prep I need to do and care I need to take through the whole process. Also working in a room on my own can flip between feeling really focused and really at sea. In the final week of rehearsal I’ve been lucky to have more of a team around me, bringing all the different aspects of the work together – design, tech, vocal coaching – and that’s felt like a big relief.
What are you hoping audiences can take away from this show?
I hope audiences leave feeling like they’ve run a marathon with me! I want the liveness of the event to really hit home, so that we reconnect with the truth of how important it is to be in rooms with each other, to trust each other and to be willing to put stuff on the line when it matters. And if people leave thinking a little more than before about why we place so much importance on seeing people’s bodies – the information we assume we can know based on the visuals of a body – then I’ve done my job.
What is next for you?
Monster Show is show 1 in a big project I’m making called The Extinction Trilogy. Show 2 is Blood Show and is due to be at Battersea Arts Centre in 2024, so I’ll be moving onto that next. A fight that runs on loop for an hour, a ghost, a white carpet and 125 litres of fake blood per show!
Monster Show is playing at the Camden People’s Theatre from 31st October – 3rd November. Link here for tickets