Glenn Chandler is the creator and director of chilling new tale, The Lamplighters, being performed at the Tabard Theatre this month. Having spent years writing for television with his successful crime drama Taggart, he has now turned his hand to fringe theatre. Here he explains to us why he enjoys the freedom that the theatre allows him.
Could you explain what The Lamplighters is about?
It’s an old fashioned murder mystery with a different edge to it. It’s largely about obsession. It is a story about three former detectives who failed to solve a rather sensational murder case, and how their obsession with the case has gradually taken its toll upon their lives and ends up destroying them.
What themes does the play explore?
It’s a tale of revenge, obsession and dark deeds in the wild Cumbrian hills. It’s not really a whodunit as such. It explores miscarriages of justice; it says a few things about the justice system in this country.
Why is the play called The Lamplighters?
It was originally called “The Lamplighter”, but I thought: no, it makes more sense if there are two of them. It is to do with the mysterious legend of two lights seen luring people to their deaths. There are strange tales of lights leading travellers to their deaths across moors. In the play one of the suspects was lured to his death in a dark, cold, mysterious tarn by two lamps that he saw hanging over the water – hence The Lamplighters.
You have focussed on crime fiction a lot in your previous work (Taggart). What are your inspirations?
I have never done anything on crime on the stage before, it was all television. I’ve always been fascinated by what happens to people after a murder case, especially when a murder goes unsolved for years and people start wrestling over who did it and whether the killer will ever be found. I was interested in exploring the obsessions people have with unsolved murders. That’s certainly the angle I wanted to explore with this play.
Do you find it difficult to maintain suspense in your work?
Yes it is always difficult! You find yourself looking back a little bit and thinking: was that too obvious? Even now there are bits that are very obvious to me. But people don’t guess it – I haven’t had anybody yet say they guessed it in the first act. It does play very fair with audiences because the clues are planted along the way if one cares to pick them up!
Do you get nervous watching the show for the first time with an audience?
Yes I do. I get less nervous as it goes along. I get very nervous on press nights, hoping that things go right! I think we had a very good night. The Book of Mormon opened on the same night and we were still packed to the gunnels!
I go to every show in the first week because it’s good to keep an eye on it but there comes a moment when you have to hand it over to the actors. You have to let go of it after a while and move on to other things, which I am doing!
Why did you choose the hills of Cumbria as the setting?
I had a holiday up there and I wandered around the hills and thought this was a good place. It was very misty. All of the places mentioned in the story actually exist!
Have you worked with any of the cast before?
No, the only person I had worked with was Will Hunter, my stage manager. He worked with me on The Custard Boys but the cast were all completely new. It’s nice to work with a new cast! Sometimes it’s too easy to work with old casts.
Do you have a favourite play that you have seen recently?
Yes, I was very impressed with Bully Boy, which was on at the St James Theatre. It had Anthony Andrews playing a soldier accused of crimes committed in Iraq and I was just blown away by it. It just goes to show what you can do in a theatre with two actors, two chairs and a table. It was an amazing production! I’m very impressed by stuff like that.
Do you prefer writing for television or theatre, and why?
I worked on television for many, many years and when you come up with new ideas for television now it takes so much time to get anything off the ground. Television doesn’t take as many risks anymore. It has to be risk-free, whereas with fringe theatre you can take big risks and try new things: that is why I love the theatre!
What do you have planned next?
I have two shows planned: Killers is a one act play about serial killers and has actors playing the parts of Ian Brady, Dennis Nilsen, and Peter Sutcliffe. It’s all to do with the letters that serial killers receive from people out in the world. The play is adapted from the correspondence of Brady, Sutcliffe and Nilsen. I am taking that to the Edinburgh festival this year. I’m also directing Sandel and taking it to Edinburgh. That was a beautiful novel published in 1968. It’s now completely out of print – it costs about £400 to buy a paperback version. It’s set in Oxford in the 60s and about the relationship between a 19 year-old Oxford undergraduate and a young choir boy. It’s a beautiful love story but it will create quite a bit of controversy in the climate of today!