KILL the Beast are an award winning theatrical troupe formed in the halcyon days of the: Ollie Jones, Clem Garrity, Zoe Roberts, David Cumming and Natasha Hodgson.
Though they met at Warwick University, the group never shared lectures, instead their paths crossed in a variety of extra, society-based productions.
In these societies they got to know each other and quickly realised they shared a passion for witty, “horrible” humour and extravagant production values.
Once they had left university, Clem contacted the group with an idea: he wanted to do an adaptation of the former Doctor Who actor Tom Baker’s book, ‘The Boy Who Kicked Pigs’ and knew exactly who he wanted helping him produce, write and star in it.
Thus Kill the Beast was born, performing their first show at Salford’s historic Lowry theatre in 2012. Soon after, The Lowry asked the group to become associate artists.
Today, Natasha – who plays June in the new play Don’t Wake The Damp – sounds more excited than ever about the future of Kill The Beast.
“Damp in one sentence? It’s an 80s comedy horror monster romp, with a flavour of Erazorhead and a bash over the head of the Power Rangers,” she rattles out pop culture references constantly, seemingly unaware she’s doing it.
It’s this cultural awareness that helps make Damp the play it is.
Over the phone she’s chipper, full of self-deprecating humour; “We’re very, very honoured and pleased that [The Lowry] want to let us continue to make dreadful things,” she says.
That Don’t Wake The Damp has received widespread acclaim, sell-out crowds and awards at the famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival, doesn’t seem to bother her.
She explains the adoration away, saying that “people just love a bit of gore and nonsense… especially in a world that’s increasingly dismal. People want something light- hearted.”
The biggest benefits of working directly for The Lowry? “The two things that you need most in theatre are money and somewhere to leap around in.
“They are the hardest things to get because to get rehearsal space you need money, and to get money… I don’t even know what you do in the theatre world! It’s impossible.
“The Lowry gave us both of those things. They’re amazing – so committed to small artists. We wouldn’t be anywhere if they hadn’t helped us.”
Returning to Salford after winning the theatre award at Edinburgh feels like something of a “victory lap,” according to Natasha, though she ponders “whether the sales will prove if that’s true or not.”
The team have grappled with new projection mapping technologies – which took up a “terrifying two or three weeks” of time that could have been spent honing the script during the Manchester previews.
“I’m not in the audience, so I don’t know if the results have been worth it, but this production has been a huge step up technically.”
Luckily though, their three-week stint in Scotland helped them evolve the script to a point where they’re incredibly happy with it.
“If something’s consistently not working, not landing, you do have to change it. The change might not even be better, but psychologically there’s something about saying ‘we’ll move on and try something else’, but at the same time you don’t want to be completely reactionary to every audience.
“Because if you change the script based on every audience, the show would never exist… you want people who you trust, who you admire to like the things you make.
“But that doesn’t always happen and you can’t please everyone.”
There’s been no rest for the Kill the Beast team over the summer, as they’d perform both Damp and another hit show, He Had Hairy Hands daily.
“Which was completely mental. It took away any time we had to reflect,” a contemplative Natasha tells me.
Finding the time to reflect at last, she figures that living off of brownies and hot dogs over summer has been tiring but rewarding.
“We had a really good Edinburgh. We had lovely audiences – I think one show sold the other show, it was a great experience… much in the same way that giving birth is traumatic. We’re happy with the result of it, but not sure we’d want to go through it again.”
In-between performing Damp and Hairy Hands, there was just about time to squeeze in a viewing of Netflix’s hit series Stranger Things.
Purely co-incidentally, one of the biggest pop culture phenomenon’s of the summer shares a fair bit of DNA Kill The Beast’s latest offering, most notably the 80s setting and heavy John Carpenter influence.
“It’s so weird, isn’t it! We had no idea it was going to come out, obviously, but we love Stranger Things. It’s weird [that] this sort of 80s, synthy, neon thing – with an alien overtone – is coming back, cause that’s exactly what Don’t Wake The Damp is!
“The Thing, The Fly, Die Hard – that’s what we’ve tried to combine in Damp… Again, kind of like Stranger Things, not that I’m comparing our show to the massive smash hit, but in terms of tone…”
A number of reviewers have called the council officials in the new show “sinister.” Natasha laughs this off, though.
“He’s definitely sinister, I love that guy. But all our characters we make are deeply flawed and ruled by selfishness.
He’s no more sinister than anyone else. We’re not a political theatre company – we want to make plays that are really fun to watch.”
“If we are making a political point, it’s a very, very broad one that the bureaucracy we face in everyday life is maybe something we should be questioning more.”
She often questions the usefulness of mixing politics and theatre: “There’s a lot of theatre that tries to make a political point in a very lefty way, which makes me a little uncomfortable because I think, who are we – specifically Kill The Beast – to make these points without really knowing everything?
It wasn’t hard to make our main characters’ women. We gave her a female name and sort of… wrote a story about her,” she laughs.
Natasha describes Kill The Beast’s writing process as “a horrifying, writing based, human centipede” “Each scene goes through all of us, we’re all writers. Which is great and terrible at the same time, because we all want to contribute.
“We’ll have discussions about the scene, or the overall story and someone will have a whack at that, take it away and do a first draft. We come back together, read out what we’ve done and swap and re-write.”
What’s next for Kill The Beast? A well-deserved rest after a hectic summer? Not a chance…
“We’ve got some bigger, more ambitious stuff that will hopefully come to light in the next few months.”
When pressed, Natasha gives a wry hint: “In 2017, you can expect projects involving: mysteries, bananas, ghouls, wolves and slime.”
Don’t Wake The Damp runs from October 26-29 at The Lowry Theatre, Salford.
By Will Stevenson