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Alma Cullen on Writing House of Ghosts

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You wrote four episodes of the Morse television series. How does writing a stage-play based on Colin Dexter's character compare/differ?
It doesn't differ at all in the sense that I retain my considerable respect for the two characters –Morse and Lewis – created by Colin. It differs hugely in the sense that the stage dramatist has to tell the story without having the flexibility of TV filming at his or her disposal – no rapid cutting from scene to scene, no car chases, no lingering on the sunset, no gorgeous shots of Oxford and so on. On the other hand, by confining the action to a single all-purpose set on stage, one can create and sustain suspense at least as well, if not better, than on screen. And inventive actors love creating character and atmosphere with only a well-designed set as support.

This is a new story. Give us some clues –plot? characters?
An Oxford theatre, a visiting stage company, a performance of Hamlet and the death of the beautiful young actress playing Ophelia bring Morse face to face with some ghosts from his past.

How closely do you work with the director Robin Herford?
Robin is a very experienced and distinguished director. Once he had outlined what he wanted to do with the script I was happy for him to go ahead, especially as he asked for very few changes. I've been to a couple of rehearsals and expect to attend one or two more before we open, and I'm always available to answer queries.

What other stage works have you written?
Four plays, all produced in Scotland in the last four years. One of these was given a studio performance at Alan Ayckbourn's theatre in Scarborough.

How did you become a writer of scripts in the first place?
I wrote the first third of a radio play and sent it to a BBC radio drama producer who said that if I completed it he'd produce it. I did, and he did. My fourth radio play was bought out for television and for a short time I wrote both radio and TV scripts. I then concentrated on television until 2006 when I became intrigued by writing for the stage.

What's your next project?
I'm too superstitious to tell you – the gods might hear and strike me down! Seriously, I never talk about work in progress, although I can tell you it will be for the stage.

What advice do you have for budding playwrights?
My advice would make no difference. You'll know if you're a playwright because you'll live and breathe drama of all kinds; you'll work out how effects are achieved, how scenes are constructed and strung together, and you'll not only listen, listen, listen, to how people talk but you'll also study how great playwrights turn everyday speech into dialogue that reveals character.


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