Playwright Philip Meeks on Harrogate Theatre’s new ghost tale

Philip Meeks.
Philip Meeks.
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When award-winning playwright Philip Meeks was asked to come up with the first original play commissioned by Harrogate Theatre for 20 years, how could he resist?

The question was what this Edinburgh Fringe First Award winner should do. It didn’t take him long to come up with the answer.

Philip said: “When I was asked to write an alternative Christmas show for Harrogate Theatre it was obvious a ghost story was the direction my new play should take.”

Thanks to the Victorians, ghost stories have been synonymous with Christmas for more than a 100 years but this highly original playwright wanted to find an original twist.

He said: “The tradition for creepy tales on Christmas Eve started with Charles Dickens. Obviously, A Christmas Carol is the most famous ghost story of them all, but his other ghostly tales are even more chilling. Yet they’ve all been done to death, so to speak.”

Philip’s quest went on.

“The next obvious choice would have been M.R James. Although he’s considered the master of the ghost story, I’m afraid I find it hard to read his tales without an urge to skip to the end. If I do read them all the way through, I often can’t work out what went on!”

So Philip, retraced his steps back to Dickens.

He said: “I discovered something I hadn’t read before. He edited and contributed to a short novella called The Haunted House, a portmanteau story consisting of different tales set in the same location, and framed by stories written by Dickens himself.

“I was amazed that three of the five non-Dickens stories were written by women. Yet the ghost story is a genre in which women have been hugely influential and successful.”

This thought led Philip to E Nesbit who was not all that he or, rather, she seemed.

“As a child, my Sunday afternoons were filled with E Nesbit’s fabled children’s tales, either that or another matinee screening of The Railway Children. I , like countless others, thought E Nesbit was a man. In fact, she was a very modern woman who decided to use only her initial to help her get published.”

Eventually. Philip decided to combine elements of Nesbit’s life story with a new ghostly tale.

“Originally this play was going to be a series of Edith’s stories told as an anthology. But Edith’s own life is so dark she took over. I knew I had to include her and her story in the play.”

l Edith in the Dark run from December 10 to January 5. For tickets, call 01423 502116 or visit www,harrogatetheatre.co.uk