Iain McLaughlin

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Behind the Masque

Imagination Theatre Radio Play/Stage Play

In life we wear a lot of masks…

and the truth is that we don’t just wear them in life…

Behind the Masque is a horror portmanteau play which has been performed on both radio and stage. 

The four stories all linked by the theme of a horror or a dark secret hiding behind a mask.

The scripts for both the original radio and theatrical versions of the play are contained in this volume.

After writing a couple of Hammer style horrors for Imagination Theatre, followed by one that was influenced by Roger Corman's adaptations of the Edgar Allen Poe stories, I wanted to do a different kind of classic horror of the kind I remembered from my long-gone youth.

This time I decided on something influenced by the portmanteau movies made by Amicus. They had to be themed in some way. I had a story in mind about a bar on Hallowe'en night, where a beautiful woman in a mask meets a man who only just avoided a terrible accident. That felt like it could be a central hook. Could there be something thematic in that story that would expand out into a portmanteau? The mask felt like the obvious thing to look at, and suddenly it all started to fall into place. There are lots of different kinds of masks we wear in life. Adding a horror flavour took me in certain directions. That original central story was a chunky piece, so to fit the time limit, the other stories had to be short. Multiple stories meant many parts - it had to be designed so that performers could play several roles. That was an enjoyably interesting challenge. But what was the linking device going to be? The stories were about masks but how did I link them? It was radio, so it had to be a narrator... but what kind of narrator? One who was wearing a masks of sorts themselves, perhaps?

I am not given to blowing my own trumpet but I did think this was the best thing I had written in a long time. I was really pleased with it. Which makes it so disappointing that the version which aired on Imagination Theatre broke my heart. Larry Albert, the producer, often director and equally often actor (and excellent in every role) at Imagination Theatre was excited about the script but Jim French, who owned the company, had some doubts about the horror being a bit too much. So it was cancelled. Then it was on - but we were only doing that original, central story. Then it was on again if we made a change to the narrator. I was okay with that. I didn't like the change but I was okay with it. However, whether by miscommunication or whatever reason, the rewrite that was done made changes far beyond what I had agreed to and so the play that went out... I didn't listen to all of it. I was too angry. Had I known the changes that were made I would have either pulled the play or at least have taken my name off the piece. The disappointment was that I think the original script was tight, held together very well and flowed around that central story which should have had a dream-like quality... I thought it managed to have its own identity while being true to those Amicus films. It's worth pointing out, I have no beef with Larry or with Imagination Theatre. I loved working with that company and I have absolute respect for Larry and Sable. They are dear friends, and the word "legend" scarcely does Jim French credit. My respect for him is beyond question. This incident goes down as "just one of those things" in my book. For me it's a case of shrug and move on. I still have the theatrical version to see my original vision, and the radio version may well see the light of day in the next few years. But I have no beef or grudge with Larry, Sable or Imagination Theatre about this play. We've talked about it and we're cool. But if you're thinking of buying the scriptbook expecting the radio play you heard... don't buy the book. 

I spoke with a number of people about the piece later and a few asked about whether that central piece could be a theatrical piece. It could. In fact, with a bit of work, the whole thing could. So I did a slight rewrite and it was staged successfully. The scripts for the original radio version (not the version that aired) and the stage version are available in a book which can be obtained from Amazon.

More horror


coming autumn 2019