There’s a thought in Susan Hill’s Howards End is on the Landing that I’ve never forgotten. In Hill’s meander through the books in her house, she muses on the importance of titles and concludes that many a new novel has sunk without trace because it has a dull, unmemorable title. “A good title beckons, attracts, seduces, remains…a good title makes a pattern, has a rhythm and can be rolled very satisfactorily round in the mouth, even recited like a verse to cheer up dull moments.”
You could never accuse Hill of publishing anything with a boring title. Consider The Soul of Discretion, The Small Hand and, most memorably, The Woman in Black. You know The Woman in Black – the Gothic novel that has enjoyed a chilling stage presence for nigh on 30 years and, more recently, been adapted into a film starring Daniel Radcliffe.
Now The Mist in the Mirror, published more than two decades ago, is making its stage debut courtesy of adaptor Ian Kershaw and the Oldham Coliseum. Ahead of a nationwide tour, The Mist in the Mirror premieres next week and hopes are high at the Coliseum that this unsettling ghost story can replicate the success of The Woman in Black. But it wasn’t an easy process.
“We spent six months reading various books and talking about writers,” Kershaw tells Northern Soul. “But The Mist in the Mirror is a rattling good ghost story and very much in the mode of The Woman in Black.”
Kershaw admits that taking up the Susan Hill mantle was “a little daunting” given the legacy of The Woman in Black. “She is such a brilliant storyteller,” he says. “But I’ve seen some of Imitating the Dog‘s shows and they are really energetic and really clever people who stage impossible things.”
Leeds-based theatre-makers Imitating the Dog have won acclaim for a number of productions, not least last year’s Farewell to Arms which employed the company’s unique blend of digital media, design and physical performance.
Like a lot of people working in Northern theatre, Kershaw has form when it comes to the Oldham Coliseum. So, in many ways, The Mist in the Mirror is a lot like coming home. But he’s mindful of how difficult it is for playwrights in the 21st century.
“I had to make a choice when it came to being an actor or a writer,” says Kershaw. “That was five years ago. I’d already started writing when I won the Bruntwood Prize. And that didn’t break down any doors for me straightaway.”
So, are awards important? “They are in a sense that this is a very lonely job. And it’s a very insecure job. You put your heart and a soul on a plate for people and when you get a nomination it’s a bit of recognition.”
Like a lot of creative types in the North of England, Kershaw is well connected, not least though his wife, Julie Hesmondhalgh, known to millions as Coronation Street‘s Hayley Cropper but to North West theatre aficionados as the mother in Black Roses: The Killing of Sophie Lancaster.
In keeping with local collaborations, Kershaw has written a comedy series for BBC Radio 4 called Cleaning Up, a story about a dysfunctional family starring Hesmondhalgh, John Thomson and Justin Moorhouse. If his past work is anything to go by, you’re in for a treat.
The Mist in the Mirror is at the Oldham Coliseum from January 30 until February 21, 2015. www.coliseum.org.uk/plays/the-mist-in-the-mirror/
For touring information, click here