Thursday, 26 September 2013

REVEALED - My secret love affair with Elizabeth Bathory!

With my storytelling show about real life 'vampire' Countess Elizabeth Bathory coming up at the London Horror Festival on October 30th (and now booking, by way of link below!)...

Blood And Stone at the London Horror Festival website

Download audio drama of Blood And Stone here

..thought I'd throw in a few words about my lifelong secret love affair with 'Countess Dracula'...


We go back a long way together, Erzsebet Bathory and I. One of my earliest childhod memories is of a Saturday afternoon in the Govanhill area of Glasgow when I badgered my parents to let me spend my pocket money on a book I had just seen in a shop along the road: the novelisation of Hammer Films’ version of the Bathory story Countess Dracula. My Mum and Dad, to be fair, were less worried about my exposure to the horrors within those pages (I was already the kind of kid allowed to sit up in his Star Trek pyjamas to watch the late night horror film on TV), than concerned over the waste of money on a book surely unreadable to a child with his age still in single figures. (“Think of all the long words,” I remember my Mum saying.) But I persevered and soon had my hands on my very first ‘grown-up’ book, with its gorgeous front cover of a beautiful young Ingrid Pitt and its disturbing back cover image of a grotesquely aged Pitt shoved in her prison cell at the end of the film (which therefore ends just before BLOOD & STONE begins.) And within those covers I was introduced to at least a fictionalised version of the great lady, right at the absolute inception of my literary life. She has haunted me ever since.

How could she not? As someone who firmly believes that great horror is achieved when – and only when - horror and beauty ring out at the same instant (No beauty? Then I’m not interested.), this woman, simultaneously magnificent and beautiful and monstrous beyond conception, might stand as the sheerest embodiment of that aesthetic, less a commonplace serial killer (yawn...) than a kind of wondrous, terrible Goddess of death, like Kali or Medea, Hecate or Clytemnestra.

Throughout the rest of my childhood, a childhood blessed with the true writer’s ability to promiscuously mingle ‘fact’ and fantasy, the tenement building in Glasgow’s Catchcart Road which housed that newsagent’s shop became for me the home of Countess Bathory. I would look at the dusty upper windows of that tenement and visualise the Countess locked up in there – for it was the image of the imprisoned Countess of her latter years that truly haunted my imagination. (Likewise, the toy shop across the street where I bought a model kit of Doctor Jekyll turning into Mr. Hyde housed, in my imagination, that very laboratory somewhere in its back shop.)  

And so, inevitably, I dreamed of one day creating my own artistic, dramatic vision of the Countess. The basic plot of BLOOD & STONE was already at least half-formulated in my mind by my teenage years, but I dithered over getting it down on paper, fearful perhaps of doing justice to the great lady, but also at a loss to think who would produce such a grim, gothic story. It hardly seemed material for the BBC or the Royal Court!

Then, when a backpacking trip around Austria saw me basing myself in Vienna, in a hotel room so cheap the window looked out on a romantic airshaft heaped with dead pigeons, I felt the Countess herself taking a hand in the matter. There’s no time to deal with this in BLOOD & STONE, but not all the Countess’s atrocities were committed in her Hungarian Castle. She also had a townhouse in Vienna, just behind the Imperial Court (signifying how highly ranked her family were in the Austro-Hungarian monarchy) and committed some of her crimes there. The monks on the other side of the street used to chuck pots across at her window when the screams of tortured girls disturbed their devotions – but never thought of reporting someone so important to the authorities. Vienna doesn’t publicise her its Bathory connection like it publicises Mozart, but after a bit of detective work at the Vienna police museum, I worked out her Vienna address and made my way there after dark one night.

The street is narrow, poorly lit and with houses that seem to lean towards one another across the street in Caligari fashion. The doorway that once been hers was large but drably painted and many of the floors above in a building now split into offices and apartments looked empty, derelict, buried in dust. I couldn’t help but picture her staring out of the uppermost windows, haunting the spot still. And, standing there, I happened to glance a few doors along to the window of a small record shop on the same block. Two big musicals were playing in Vienna that year: one of them, Elizabeth, portrayed the tragic 19th. Century empress ‘Sissi’, Austria’s very own Princess Di. The other show was Tanz Der Vampyr, a musical based on Roman Polanski’s film Dance Of The Vampires (aka Fearless Vampire Killers). But the way the posters for the two shows were juxtaposed in the window, one above the other, meant that what I saw when I glanced that way was the dim lamp light falling across two words only:
                                    VAMPYR ELIZABETH
It was like a sign, direct from the ghost of the lady herself to my own imagination. I turned away, hurried back up the street towards the brighter lights and broader byways around the opera house. And I swear I could hear the moth-eaten folds of her gown hissing after me up the pavement, pursuing me all the way back to the grey shadows of that hotel room. That night I felt her crawling into my skull.

After that, I had to write something. The first form the idea took on paper was that of a stage play entitled Laundry, but this was a different piece from BLOOD & STONE: the bare bones of the plot were identical, but Laundry updated the story to modern Eastern Europe, both under and after Stalinism and was written in a surreal, absurdist style closer to Ionesco or Kafka or Durrenmatt than to a straightforward horror story. Inevitably, perhaps, no one knew what to do with a play so wilfully off-beat and peculiar so the script lay gathering dust, like the Countess’s ghost up behind those Vienna windows.

But still I couldn’t let go of her; or she wouldn’t let go of me. The idea came to me to take the story back to what it had been in the first place: a pure no-bullshit gothic horror story, 17th. Century castle setting and all. When I took up professional storytelling, I performed a rough-and-ready 25 minute version of Blood And Stone during one of my regular stints with the Storytellers Of Nottingham in Nottingham’s haunted Trip To Jerusalem pub. It worked well, but seemed too big and intense for that tiny venue and limited slot, so I thought about developing it further as a full length piece in its own right. Meanwhile,
I pitched it tentatively to BBC Scotland as a radio play, but they took understandable fright at the thought of something so dark and nasty coming on straight after The Archers. Then Mariele Runacre Temple, who’d already produced another play of mine, Medusa On The Beach, for her Wireless Theatre Company dropped me a line about a new audio drama company being set up specially to focus on horror drama. And I knew in an instant that the ghost which had trailed me along the Vienna streets that night, which had maybe been trailing me all the way from that Glasgow street of my childhood, had found a home.

BLOOD & STONE was recorded in a spooky Norfolk church and then released, through 3D Horror Fi, Wireless Theatre Company, Amazon Audible, iTunes etc. and was very well received, ultimately earning a 2012 Rondo award nomination. But the tight hold the Countess had taken of me meant it wasn’t enough to just write a script and let others perform it – that dream of a longer storytelling version offered me the chance to bring to fruition my own inner Countess, to fully channel the way, years before, I’d felt her spirit creeping into me, whether in the streets of Glasgow or Vienna. Storytelling, when it’s really going full tilt, has an almost Shamanic quality… one feels the characters are passing through one like spirits, like you’re a medium, an intermediary, between your audience and the world of the dead. And, God help me, as I rehearse Blood And Stone, day and out, as I twist mind and voice and body into the Countess’ stark contours, it really feels as if there’s more than my imagination at work, as if something/someone who followed me home, skirts a-rustle that night in Vienna is slipping on my skin and bones like a ragged ballgown, a pair of dark gloves, a tragic mask for a tragic (anti) heroine…..

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

21st Century Poe at the London Horror Festival on Halloween - press release

Just pasting in here press release for my other show at this year's London Horror Festival, 21st. CENTURY POE: FALLING FOR THE USHERS, recently such a success in Edinburgh. If anyone reading this or the press release for BLOOD AND STONE: A LULLABY FOR ELIZABETH BATHORY, my other London Horror Festival show, wants to get on with buying some tickets, here are the appropriate links:
21st Century Poe: Falling For The Ushers
Blood And Stone: A Lullaby For Elizabeth Bathory

Anyway, here's the press release:

London Horror Festival
19.30, 31st. October 2013, Etcetera Theatre, Camden (Tickets £10)

Marty Ross (BBC Radio horror; Doctor Who audio) drags Edgar Allan kicking & screaming into the modern world – just in time for Halloween & the London Horror Festival!

In the horror tales of Edgar Allan Poe, the same opening note is struck again and again: an isolated, tormented narrator wants – needs! – to tell us of his strange experiences. They are ideally suited, therefore, to contemporary theatre’s great comeback kid, the most ancient and suddenly most modern form of narrative theatre: live storytelling. But Marty Ross, a storytelling ‘modernist’ keen to shift this resurgent form away from backward looking quaintness, has no intention of presenting Poe’s stories as period pieces: rather he radically updates them to our era – shifting the setting to his native Glasgow. Fresh from critical raves and full houses for three of his 21st. Century Poe stories at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, Ross now brings his reinvention of Poe’s most famous tale to the London Horror Festival – on Halloween!

Well established as a playwright, particularly with dark drama for BBC radio (Ghost Zone, Catch My Breath, Darker Side Of The Border, this month’s Lady Macbeth Of Mtsensk), plus Doctor Who & award-nominated Dark Shadows audio drama, as well as Blood And Stone, nominated for a 2012 Rondo Award (horror fandom’s Oscars) and also presented at this year’s London Horror Festival  (Oct 30th), Marty Ross onstage is a whole dramatis personae in himself, using expressionistic mime and gesture as well as evocative words, shifting fluidly between the strange and troubling characters of his story - in which haunted, incestuous twins Roderick and Madeline Usher have left behind the misty gothic manor of the Poe tale to become superstars of the contemporary art world, thanks to their macabre conceptual installations in the manner of Damien Hirst and the Chapman Bros. But when Madeline’s old art school admirer Ed shows up, their tragic fall is as inescapable as ever….

Critics at the Edinburgh Fringe knew they had seen something special. Now London can see how cutting edge this most traditional form of theatre can be….

“Insanely good storytelling… a master craftsman who never turns down the pressure… Ross’ violently impressive performance make this a heart-pounding triumph… Trainspotting meets gothic horror….” – Broadway Baby *****

“Ross has a great aptitude for suspense and terror, and he hurls himself into his tale with energy and passion, in words which ring with Glasgow rhythm. An accomplished piece of work… a chilling conclusion.” – The Scotsman

“Visceral. A compelling narrator and onstage presence. … left you thinking as well as reeling… theatre that kept you on edge… an immensely entertaining ride that scared and shocked in equal measure – a fair ground ghost ride for the 21st Century….” – Fringe Review

“…What Marty Ross does with literature’s most mystical and macabre works is make them sing with new energy and beguile an audience all over again…. poetically re-worked ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ manages, in its modernisation, to preserve and revere the original, even intensifying its impact… a bewitchingly good story that leaves a haunting reminder long after the lights have gone down.” - 3 Weeks ****

Festival website:

Monday, 23 September 2013

BLOOD & STONE - A Lullaby For Elizabeth Bathory

Just pasting in here press release for Blood And Stone - the storytelling show I'm doing at the London Horror Festival on October 30th. Be there AND be scared! (And maybe moved - in a weird kind of a way...)

BLOOD & STONE – A Lullaby For Elizabeth Bathory
London Horror Festival
19.30, 30th. October 2013, Etcetera Theatre, 265 Camden High Street
London NW1 7BU (Above Oxford Arms pub), Camden (Tickets £10)

1610: Hungary’s real life ‘vampire’ countess is imprisoned in her castle, the most prolific serial killer in history. But at this year’s London Horror Festival, storyteller Marty Ross is going to set her free….

It’s one of history’s great horror stories – the Countess who bathed in blood to preserve her beauty. It has inspired horror films from Hammer’s ‘Countess Dracula’ to recent efforts starring Julie Delpy and Anna Friel. Those accounts have focused upon the Countess’ gory heyday, but the emphasis in Marty Ross’ storytelling show is on the aftermath… the ageing Countess punished by being locked for years in a lightless chamber in her castle, her hunger fierce as ever. Blood And Stone imagines a young maid listening to the Countess’ protestations of innocence - and being lured into unlocking the door of the cell….

Those who saw storyteller Marty Ross’ performances at last year’s London Horror Festival, or at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, will know his storyteller’s ability to shape-shift through the forms and voices of a myriad of strange characters, male and female. Well established as a playwright, particularly with dark drama for BBC radio (Ghost Zone, Catch My Breath, Darker Side Of The Border, this month’s Lady Macbeth Of Mtsensk), plus Doctor Who & award-nominated Dark Shadows audio drama– as well as the audio drama version of Blood And Stone, nominated for a 2012 Rondo Award (horror fandom’s Oscars) - as a storyteller he is a whole dramatis personae in himself, a key figure in the current revival of this oldest – and yet suddenly most modern - of theatrical forms. As Broadway Baby said of his show 21st. Century Poe (also at the London Horror Festival on Halloween), “Ross is a master craftsman who never turns down the pressure, painting vile pictures and weaving a grotesque spell over his listeners… Certain images were so repulsive that people in the front row were noticeably squirming”. Using not just powerful words, but mime and gesture indebted to the likes of German Expressionism, Ross’ storytelling is more Theatre Of Cruelty than Book At Bedtime, creating vivid on-stage images, even as he projects more scarifying images still into the audience’s imaginations… which is where the really scary stuff  always happens….

Reviews for Ross’ storytelling at the Edinburgh Fringe:

 “Insanely good storytelling… a master craftsman who never turns down the pressure… violently impressive….” – Broadway Baby *****

“Ross has a great aptitude for suspense and terror… chilling.” – The Scotsman

“Visceral. A compelling narrator and onstage presence. … left you thinking as well as reeling… theatre that kept you on edge… an immensely entertaining ride that scared and shocked in equal measure – a fair ground ghost ride for the 21st Century….” – Fringe Review

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Barbara Of The House Of Grebe at Nottingham Library - Press Release

Just posting here the press release for my storytelling performance of Thomas Hardy's Barbara Of The House Of Grebe at Nottingham Central Library in a couple of weeks time:


A Dramatic Storytelling Show by Marty Ross

– Nottingham Central Library Oct 2nd. 19.00 (Tickets £2)

Great literature comes ALIVE at Nottingham Library as storyteller Marty Ross performs Thomas Hardy’s strangest, darkest love story.

After 5 star reviews and sold-out houses for his show 21st. Century Poe at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, Scottish (but Nottingham based) live storyteller Marty Ross has come home to bring literature to life in Nottingham Central Library by way of his unique, highly dramatic approach to live storytelling. He will be performing his one man dramatization of Thomas Hardy’s most gothic short story Barbara Of The House Of Grebe. Already performed to considerable success by Ross at Chilwell Arts Theatre in February, as part of his Hardy double bill In Passion’s Shadow, Barbara now makes her solo debut in a performance combining impassioned storytelling, mime and gesture and even an eerie bit of mask work. Those who have seen Ross perform in venues from theatres to libraries to Nottingham’s pubs and cafes know how evocatively he can bring great stories to life. As 3 Weeks said of his Edinburgh show – “what Marty Ross does with some of literature’s most mystical and macabre works is make them sing with new energy and beguile an audience all over again.”

There is a gothic undercurrent running through many of Hardy’s greatest novels, but it is in the short story Barbara Of The House Of Grebe that this element comes to the fore. Hardy always claimed the story was based on the actual history of a Wessex family; let us hope he exaggerated, for the story of Barbara - of her elopement with the commoner she loves, the horrendous injury he suffers, her second marriage to a man she most definitely does not love, and the macabre way this second husband exorcises the ghost of her true love from her mind – is even more tragic and disturbing than anything in his more celebrated novels.

Marty Ross is already well-established as a playwright with a long string of dramas for BBC radio, encompassing everything from the Scottish ghost stories of The Darker Side Of The Border to the science fiction of Ghost Zone to the Shakespearean black comedy of last year’s Rough Magick to the Russian drama of Lady Macbeth Of Mtsensk, due to be broadcast on Radio 4 on Oct 4th. He has also written Doctor Who and award-nominated Dark Shadows audio drama. But communicating a story directly to an audience through live storytelling remains a great passion, as attested by his Edinburgh reviews:

“Ross is a master craftsman who never turns down the pressure… insanely good storytelling.” – Broadway Baby (*****)

“Marty Ross is a compelling narrator and onstage presence… it is the utter conviction with which Ross performs that draws you into his world.” – Fringe Review

“Ross has a great aptitude for suspense and terror.” – The Scotsman

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Doctor Who: The Lurkers At Sunlight's Edge interview

By the way, was recently interviewed by the estimable Kenny Smith of Finished Product fame for volume 3 of the Big Finish guide and thought I'd include here my answers to his questions relating to the writing of my Doctor Who audio, The Lurkers At Sunlight's Edge.... (The audio itself is available here:

Alan Barnes and David Richardson seemed very happy with NIght's Black Agents as they got back in touch almost immediately asking for another script.,,, As for the fallout from the likes of {preceding story] Death In The Family, to be honest I wasn't really informed of the details of any of that: I was essentially asked for a free standing story for Doctor, Ace and Hex with no other proviso. In the very late stages of scripting, Alan suggested a couple of lines for Hex referring to a recent experience of death, so I knew something was going on, but the details of this weren't spelled out for me: I think they were playing their cards close to their chest in case anything leaked out. So I had no real knowledge of my story being part of a 'trilogy': I worked on it very
much as a self-contained story.

...I had always been fascinated by the work of H. P. Lovecraft and the basic idea was to take that very gothic science fictional world and bring it into collision with the Doctor's world. The combination of horror and a weird kind of beauty in Lovecraft's work is very haunting: the great big slimy monsters in Lovecraft are never JUST big slimy monsters - they're ancient Gods and have all the strangeness and sublimity of that. But, in a way, the personality of Lovecraft is
almost more fascinating than the work itself: this slightly nerdy introverted man who had all these weird universes exploding in his head, so obviously that inspired the character of Doveday, pushing it all the way so that Doveday's actually one of the strange alien creatures he writes about.

But there's another side to Lovecraft: although in many ways he was a decent, kindly, sensitive man, at certain points in his life he was attracted to fascistic ideas about white supremacy and racist ideas about supposedly 'lesser' races... a story like 'The Horror At Red Hook' is a real racist diatribe and the dread of human/alien interbreeding that runs through virtually all his stories would seem to have undercurrents of that. So, rather than make Doveday himself a
hateful character, I split that other, nastier side of him off into the character of Whytecrag - so it's really a sort of bifurcated dual portrait, Jekyll & Hyde style: Doveday is obviously Lovecraft, but
Whytecrag's his other, nastier side. I would have liked, in a way, to make him more overtly a foul-mouthed racist - but you have to be careful with things like taste and decency in a Doctor Who context.

The Lovecraft story that's most directly an influence in plot terms is "At The Mountains Of Madness". The likes of James Cameron and Guillermo Del Toro have been trying for years to do a mega-budget direct adaptation of that, but they never seem to have licked the
script problems. I think it's kind of fun that we at Big Finish sneaked through a sort of unofficial quasi-adaptation when no one was looking!

There was one very key change to the plot in the early stages. The original idea was that the Doctor, Ace and Hex travel not to an island off the Alaskan coast, but to an alien planet, a moon of Saturn or something like that. And there, impossibly, they find an exact
reproduction of the New England coast that was native to Lovecraft. And Freya and the other people at the mental hospital would actually belong to a whole other alien race, a peaceful race wanting to contain the risk of the Karnas'Koi - imprisoning Doveday in a sort of 'velvet
cage' version of his natural environment and assuming human form to keep up the illusion. But Alan Barnes, rightly I think, thought that was just too weird and baroque and encouraged me to set it on earth and have Freya & co. be real human beings. The only thing I regret is
that in that original version Sunlight would have had an 'edge' in the most literal sense... you'd wander so far in this New England landscape and you'd come to something almost like the back edge of a theatrical backdrop and there'd be a while other alien landscape beyond. That's slightly lost in the earthbound version - and I wondered about revising the title, but Alan loved it, so we stuck with it.

 I thought the finished thing worked pretty well. I liked Michael Brandon in the Doveday role: I was really impressed by the interview with him - he seemed a guy who had really thought seriously about what he was doing, he wasn't just camping it up or fooling around. That's what you need, writing in this kind of genre. And it means there's only degree of Kevin Bacon
between me and Dario Argento! And I wanted to give Ace, who I always liked, something more touchy-feely to do than the usual tomboy running around. The scenes where she's embracing Doveday to try and hold him in human form have, I think, a kind of weirdly erotic, romantic
quality... they show the inspiration of an old Scots folk tale I've often done in my storytelling act - the ballad of Tam Lin. On the back burner, I have a novel called "Eyes Of Tree" based on the same story. That'll see the light of day, someday.

....Sylvester McCoy was actually just back from a cruise around Alaska - so he had the real scenery fresh in his mind! The name 'Whytecrag' just popped into my mind - it was months after
Lurkers had come out that I realised where I'd got it from: I was travelling on the Glasgow southside suburban train line that I'd known since my childhood and passed through the station at 'Whitecraigs', which is the station closest to my childhood home.

The very first Doctor Who I ever saw was "The Sea Devils" - that was my proto-Whovian experience and I suppose, in retrospect, there's echoes of that here: the coastal setting, the reptilian monsters linked with a more human(oid) megalomaniac. I suppose if it works on
that kind of old-fashioned atmospheric monster story level, then I 
succeeded in what I was aiming for.

My Thomas Hardy storytelling show at Nottingham Central Library

Performing my one man version of Thomas Hardy's creepiest, most gothic love story BARBARA OF THE HOUSE OF GREBE at Nottingham Central Library on October 2nd at 19.00, tickets a mere £2. I performed this back in February as the first half of my Hardy show, IN PASSION'S SHADOW, at Chilwell Arts Theatre - but here I'm presenting it as a stand alone show. Have just been rehearsing - the dread, as a storyteller who doesn't work from a written script but from a series of memorised improvisations, is that when you haven't done a particular story for a few months, you'll have forgotten it all. But first rehearsal I had a go at a full run without checking the original Hardy text and most of it, miraculously, was still there. A check-over of the Hardy story supplemented the few gaps and I think I'm ready to go... after another few rehearsals. Anyone who's going to be in or around Nottingham that evening ought to check it out!

Monday, 2 September 2013

Siberia in North London: recording Lady Macbeth Of Mtsensk

Drawing breath after a busy week, the main part of which was spent in London, recording my new Radio 4 play at the home / studio of one of the truly great radio drama directors, Cherry Cookson. I can remember as a kid a long holiday drive to Scarborough being whiled away by listening to a cassette of Cherry's Radio 4 production of Frenchman's Creek by Daphne Du Maurier - one of those formative experiences that made me want to write for radio in the first place: a thrill, all these years later, to be working with the great lady herself.

It was a new experience for me, all my previous BBC plays having been recorded in the safe confines of a studio, to be recording the interiors in an upstairs bedroom, the exteriors in Cherry's garden, at least during the gaps between helicopters and planes flying overhead, not to mention the occasional police siren. But one crow made an absolutely on-cue contribution at mention of one of the characters dying.

We had a great cast, led by a newcomer to radio in the leading role of tragic, murderous Katerina Ismailova - Rochenda Sandall, who I think is going to be a very highly-ranked actress in the next few years, especially if this production gets listened to! Incredible to think her only previous radio drama experience had been 'rhubarbing' in a crowd scene. But she grabbed hold of her character and really took off with it.

This was most of all a special production because it was the first Radio 4 commission for the Wireless Theatre Company, who've been working miracles on the internet for the last few years to what must have been very limited financial reward, led on through thick and thin by the wonderful Mariele Runacre Temple, the single-minded visionary behind the company, one of the true saviours of radio drama in our time. I had already done a handful of plays with them for the sheer love of it - Medusa On The Beach, Blood And Stone (in conjunction with 3D Horror Fi) & the upcoming Redder Than Roses: A Glimpse Of Mary, Queen Of Scots, just glad of the chance to do some of my best work free of the sometimes confining strictures of BBC production... and suddenly it's all paid off, for all of us, in terms of old school mainstream BBC recognition.

It's all still to be edited and we'll see what happens with some of the violence in the murder scenes... which is pretty hard-hitting... but as a writer I feel in safe hands with this particular team.