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Tim Larkfield Interview – James Whale: Beyond Frankenstein and The Signalman (Edinburgh Fringe)

Kent-based actor Tim Larkfield is heading to Edinburgh this year with two new plays: a new piece of writing about Hollywood Director James Whale and a one-person interpretation of Charles Dickens’ ‘The Signalman’. Initially training and working as a journalist, Tim actually went to drama school later in life, finally living out his dream of training to be an actor in his 30s and enrolling at the now closed Poor School. He has worked in both film (‘The Mystery of Mr E’ feature film and some short films) and theatre (The Silk of 1,000 Spiders, Noël Coward’s Private Lives and more), but for 2024 is focusing on the latter medium ahead of an Edinburgh Fringe run. Tim’s theatre company ‘Paragon Theatre Collective’ is a collaboration between the actor and director/producer Sam Raffal. They produced Fringe sell-out show ‘Fake News’ in 2019, which was written and performed by Osman Baig.

Originally touring ‘The Signalman’ in 2019, Paragon Theatre Collective had plans to take the production to the Fringe in 2020, but the pandemic obviously disrupted these plans. Five years later Tim is finally taking the work to the festival and alongside it, also turning his hand to writing. ‘James Whale: Beyond Frankenstein’ sees the actor create his own opportunities in the arts, taking a well-known figure and educating audiences on his life and work beyond the classic films he directed. After heading to the festival as a spectator previously, Tim is taking on a great challenge and performing the two solo shows daily. As a Kent-based theatre writer, I was thrilled to receive Tim’s press release and share a little more about the local creative’s journey to Fringe.

You are based in the seaside town of Margate, what can you tell me about the life of an actor in Kent and the arts scene in Thanet?

Margate is a real hub for artistic people, and there are loads of actors, writers and artists here. It’s an exciting and inspiring place to be. I think Kent and Thanet are a really thriving place for the arts, but here in Thanet it’s certainly more visual arts than theatre – there are things happening, but I think there’s certainly room for more theatre in the area. For example, I think there’s a gap for a really good quality amateur theatre group which people of all ages and experience levels could get involved with. There are some great spaces like the Tom Thumb Theatre and the ARK in Cliftonville, as well as the recently reopened Granville in Ramsgate. But Margate’s Theatre Royal and Winter Gardens are still closed, with no definite timetable for reopening to the public. There’s definitely an appetite for more, and I think it would be great if Thanet could become a real destination for exciting theatre in the future, as much as it is for artists and art galleries.

James Whale: Beyond Frankenstein production photo | © Cemanthe McKenzie
James Whale: Beyond Frankenstein © Cemanthe McKenzie

Recently referring to it as “bold” for you “personally to put yourself out there”, you are about to take two one-person plays to the Edinburgh Fringe. To what extent has performing at the festival been a dream of yours?

I think the Edinburgh Fringe is one of those things that everyone should visit at least once, the atmosphere is really unlike anything else. I have always wanted to perform there, but the reality is, it’s very expensive and a huge undertaking. I feel like this year might be my only chance to perform there, so I intend to make the most of it and enjoy the experience as much as I possibly can! Bringing two solo shows at the same time for the full month is certainly going to be exhausting, but I hope it is also rewarding.

With Paragon Theatre Collective, you are bringing some new writing and a fresh interpretation of the Dickens’ classic to Fringe. What has been the greatest challenge with working on two very different one-person plays?

Probably learning all the lines! The shows are very different so they each present different challenges. The Signalman is quite emotionally intense, while in James Whale: Beyond Frankenstein I play around 25 different characters.

James Whale: Beyond Frankenstein production photo | © Cemanthe McKenzie
James Whale: Beyond Frankenstein © Cemanthe McKenzie

‘James Whale: Beyond Frankenstein’ reflects on the director’s life and career. Coming from humble beginnings in Dudley and moving to Hollywood, what is it about James Whale as a person that inspired you to write a play about him?

I love his films – The Old Dark House is one of my all-time favourites. I’d heard the name James Whale, but I didn’t know much about him. He directed lots of classic films in the 1930s, including Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Invisible Man and the musical Showboat. I found out that he was born in the UK and came from a working-class family, so it was intriguing to me how he got there. He also lived with his partner as an out gay man in Hollywood, at a time when this could have led to persecution or imprisonment.

January 2023 was when you started working on this script and you have been
researching and developing the material ever since, including performing a snippet of the show at Looping The Loop’s ‘Making More Waves’ scratch night last year. How did this early presentation of the show affect the evolution of the material?

I think the opportunity to present the piece at the Making More Waves scratch night really spurred me on to write the play. I’d never written anything before, so it was a real challenge to turn an idea into a piece of theatre. I’ve been working with a local director, James Burke-Dunsmore, who’s based in Ramsgate. He’s really helped me develop the different characters and find an overall story arc that hopefully people will enjoy.

What do you hope audiences take away from this 60-minute reflection on the director’s career?

I hope they enjoy the different characters I’ve created and also leave with a bit more of an understanding of who James Whale was, and want to go and watch some more of his films.

The Signalman production photo | © Elee Nova
The Signalman © Elee Nova / @FigurativeFaceGrabber

You have described Martin Malcolm’s version of ‘The Signalman’ as intimate. How is this one-person interpretation of Dickens’ story different from the original work?

The Signalman is the last work that Dickens completed before he died. It’s a short ghost story that’s told in the third person, from the perspective of a traveller who visits the lonely signal box and recounts the tale. This stage adaptation centres the narrative on the Signalman himself, who speaks to the audience directly to tell them about the mysterious figure he’s seen standing by the railway tunnel. Martin Malcolm has also cleverly incorporated some other aspects of Charles Dickens’s writing, including letters and newspaper reports from the time about a real train accident that Dickens was involved in, at Staplehurst in Kent in 1865.

How are you planning to transport ZOO Venues audiences back to the Dickensian era in your performance style, lighting and overall design?

For the Edinburgh run, we have a very minimal set and just a few props. The lighting and soundscape is designed to create a spooky, unsettling atmosphere and The Signalman appeals directly to the audience for help in unravelling the mystery of the nameless horror that oppresses him…

After Fringe, you are “hoping to take the stories to the people” and perform the plays across the country. How do you see either production having a life beyond the festival?

Yes, I hope that if the plays go down well with audiences and if producers, tour bookers or promoters are watching, they will see potential in the shows and want to programme them in the future. I would love to tour them around the country, and I feel that The Signalman in particular could work really well in both indoor and outdoor spaces. I’d love to do it as a site-specific piece at abandoned or out-of-use signal boxes! It’s a brilliant spooky tale for Halloween, or a great festive alternative to Dickens’s most famous ghost story, A Christmas Carol. And for James Whale, I think he deserves wider recognition as one of our all-time great film directors, so it would be great if my play can contribute to that.

The Signalman production photo | © Elee Nova
The Signalman © Elee Nova / @FigurativeFaceGrabber

Watching the plays in Kent and Edinburgh

I for one think Tim is bringing two really unique theatre offerings to the festival this year, covering new writing and a reinterpretation of a Dickens classic. It can’t be easy preparing for two solo shows, but the performer is clearly very passionate about both pieces and looking forward to presenting the contrasting works in front of audiences. At the festival, Paragon Theatre Collective will be performing daily at ZOO Southside from 2-25 August (not 12th and 19th). ‘The Signalman’ is on at 14:55 and ‘James Whale: Beyond Frankenstein’ starts at 18:45. Tickets to both shows can be purchased via the Edinburgh Fringe website.

Local audiences, Tim also has you covered this weekend, if you’re not heading to the festival. Both ‘The Signalman’ and ‘James Whale: Beyond Frankenstein’ will be having previews at the new local arts festival ‘Folkestone Live’. You can catch ‘The Signalman’ at the Quarterhouse Theatre on Saturday 13th July at 7:40pm and ‘James Whale: Beyond Frankenstein’ at the Grand Burstin Hotel Ballroom on Sunday 14th at 12:00pm.

Thanks for reading my blog today.

Love Kat xxxx



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