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Jonathan Goodwin: writer and performer

Jonathan Goodwin. Photo: Gary Archer

Birmingham-based Jonathan Goodwin launched macabre Victoriana theatre company Don’t Go Into the Cellar! in 2010. Since then he has created productions based on Sherlock Holmes, Oscar Wilde, detective Sexton Blake and the writings of MR James and Edgar Allen Poe. Using sound effects and moody lighting – “we don’t like gore” – the company relishes playing unusual venues, such as National Trust properties and “old cellars”.

Were you a strange lonely child who collected dead birds and whatnot?

I was a little Victorian boy from a very young age. The first book I read, when I was five or six, was the Hound of the Baskervilles. I’ve always loved Victorian ghost stories, Sherlock Holmes, the old black and white horror films with Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. There’s no one quite like me in the family. Little did I realise that when I grew up I’d be touring the country doing this.

Are you a trained actor?

I used to be an events manager at the Custard Factory in Birmingham. Four years ago I, and others, were made redundant. I had a bit of redundancy money and didn’t want to get back on to that particular treadmill, so I set up the company with Gary Archer, the technical director, and actress Rachel Green. I’ve written 25 scripts since then and it’s been a case of learning as we go. I’ve had no drama training. My training, I suppose, is watching old horror films from the age of four. I always think how would my favourite actor Peter Cushing have played this? I used to go to acting auditions; I had a London agent but found myself being sent for jobs I didn’t actually want, like ads for toilet rolls. The types of jobs I wanted didn’t exist so it was a simple case of thinking, ‘If they’re not there I’m going to write them’.

It sounds like hard work but does that make it more rewarding?

I find I never appreciate how well a show’s gone until after the event because there’s so much work in writing them and getting the bookings. When we started it was a case of pitching the show to a venue. I’d think, ‘I know, Sherlock Holmes v Dracula’. Gary would design the poster, the venue would say yes – all without the show having been written. I’d think, ‘OK, I wonder how this goes?’ Now we’ve finally got the product all written. I perform in some shows but we audition actors all the time; with the best will in the world I couldn’t play a damsel in distress. So now we can have shows on at different places at the same time. The first show I ever did I was confident that I knew what I was doing, and that everything I could control was under my control, so after that you just get out there and give it your best.

For tour dates of Jonathan Goodwin’s many shows, see www.facebook.com/CellarTheatre/events

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