Well, now that the name has been announced, the ominous Facebook statuses have been shared, and we’ve revealed that the roots of the play are in the works of Stephen King, I suspect you must now be very well aware what kind of play this is going to be. (The blood on the teaser posters must have provided a tiny bit of an inkling too.)
So, there are those who ask: after two years of silence, why this particular play? I guess I’d have to say that first and foremost, because it’s a tremendous challenge. The thriller and horror genre is hard enough to pull off in film (think insipid video-game adaptations that pass off as ‘horror’ these days – I was more terrified after watching Johnny Depp in Alice in Wonderland) – doing it onstage; people would call it madness.
But then, I am a little mad.
Not to mention, a horror-movie buff. I mean, I watched A Nightmare on Elm Street when I was 7. Alone. In Sargodha, of all places. Then when I was perhaps 9 or 10, my siblings dragged me to Nafdec cinema, where the sequel was playing. (Yes, Nafdec was that cool.) I’ve never been more horror-struck, but since then, I’ve had this peculiar penchant for the macabre. When I was 18, and writing fervently like poet-on-crack, my twist on the beloved Disney classic The Little Mermaid turned into a mother’s confession about drowning her daughter in a bathtub – a daughter who’d pretend she was Ariel. Go figure.
Today, when someone asks me to recite a nursery rhyme, this alt-rhyme from A Nightmare on Elm Street comes to mind:
One, two, Freddy’s coming for you.
Three, four, better lock your door.
Five, six, grab a crucifix.
Seven, eight, gonna wake up late.
Nine, ten. Never sleep again.
Yes. Apparently I’m not going to win any Father of the Year awards.
As I wrote in my previous blog-post, this is my second tribute after Superstar Avatar – and not just to Stephen King, though it is his work that I have adapted for this play and therefore his mind is undoubtedly its primary creative undercurrent. This play is a tribute to King, to Edgar Allan Poe, to my childhood favourite Christopher Pike (before you scoff, have you read some of his darker stuff?), to the cinematic and literary masters of horror, and their creations – Freddy Krueger, Hannibal Lector, Pennywise the Clown, Samara (The Ring), Annie Wilkes, all the usual suspects.
Not to say that this play is just about things that go bump in the night – hardly. I love horror, but I like my horror with a little slice of intelligence as well. Not taking anything away from The Evil Dead, but I’m more an Exorcist kind of guy. I believe that for horror to work, you have to connect with the characters, both villains and virginal heroines. That’s one of the reasons The Descent succeeded. That’s why, apart from the authors mentioned earlier, Dean Koontz and Roald Dahl are both demigods of horror fiction.
So this is a play about human nature. The darkest aspect of it. It’s horror of the most naked, most brutal kind: psychological. When I began adapting the script, I had one thought in my mind – to showcase that man really shouldn’t fear the supernatural; ghosts, ghouls, nightmare-men, djinns and the like. Man should fear himself.
And it’s also a very character-driven play. Each character symbolizes something; yet at the same time, I haven’t drawn sides – this isn’t a battle of good versus evil. Instead, all characters are shown with shades of gray; their fears, weaknesses, intentions et al lie exposed. Because of one action, these seemingly ordinary people are thrust into an extraordinary circumstance, and the layer of superficiality; of polite hellos, exchanged glances and pleasantries, suddenly takes a swift turn down South. Again, don’t want to reveal too much, but a phrase (with all its sinister connotations) from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows comes to mind: ‘For the greater good.’ The theme is very Lord of the Flies-esque, only with a much faster-pace, a couple of twists that few will see coming, and more...‘action’? Come to think of it, it’s the most action-packed play I’ve done yet.
Like I said before, I’m excited about this one. It’s different. It’ll be more an experience than merely a spectacle. A spine-tingling experience – we’re taking theatre in Islamabad to an uncharted realm. And now, before I start feeling too much like Captain Kirk gazing off into a distant galaxy, and you start questioning my sanity even more, I think I'll just close here for now.