For the actress and comedian, the story – inspired by true events – is not just about alleged ghostly goings on, but also class and gender in the 70s. Nina Nannar reports
Catherine Tate has many strings to her bow, but what she loves most is live comedy on stage. She’s back on stage now but comedy this is not.
The actress and comedian is treading the boards in the West End for ‘The Enfield Haunting’, a new play that is inspired by the true life events that took place in 1977 in a council house in North London. There, Peggy Hodgson and her three children were subjected to some terrifying incidents – objects moving in the night, her daughter Janet seemingly levitating, furniture upturned, loud bangs – the stuff of poltergeists.
In addition to that, two psychic researchers came to her house and at times more or less moved in capturing every single thing that happened there, sometimes overnight. Many hours of recordings were taken by them, and they are a truly chilling listen.
Then there was the media from all over the world. This poltergeist story is one of the most documented in history, making headlines, inspiring films, books, dramas and documentaries.
For someone who is, of course, an expert at making us laugh, this is an altogether different challenge. Tate has a huge amount of experience on stage, but she was particularly drawn to the chance to focus on an aspect of this famous story that she thought needed highlighting. For her, it is not just about alleged ghostly goings on, but it is about class and gender in the 70s.
It’s a story she believes is about how a single working class mother was subjected not only to the frightening things in her house, but also to how male researchers came in from the outside and took over her home, without her seemingly having much of a say in it. What Tate really admires about the family is the fact that they have never tried to make any money out of the story. If it were happening right now, she adds, it would be all over social media and there would be many ways for them to commercialise this.
She stresses that her play is a fictional account of the true story, and indeed there are some significant differences. The story was a subject of a recent docudrama on Apple TV+ and Tate says she’s not surprised in times as unsettled as these that people look to the supernatural.
But it is quite different from what made Tate famous.
She is best known of course for her award-winning TV sketch show in which she introduced us to enduring characters like Lauren and Nan, and catchphrases like “am I bovvered?”
Tate’s grateful the audiences allow her to transition between drama and comedy, accepting it all. But make no mistake about it, what she really loves most is to make people laugh.
She makes the plea for comedians and the art of comedy to be taken more seriously, and not be placed below drama in its significance. To be funny on stage, she says takes a lot of hard, dedicated work.
Scaring an audience is a serious business too.
The Enfield Haunting is in the West End until March.
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