Christopher Green & Sarah Waters: "He does stage hypnotism, through song. He is so convincing: he has the most piercing gaze"

The author and the performer discuss how they ended up collaborating on an adaptation of The Frozen Scream

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Sarah Waters, 48

Born in Pembrokeshire, Waters is one of the UK's most successful authors, whose novels include the bestselling 'Tipping the Velvet' and 'Fingersmith', both of which were dramatised for TV. She lives in south London

I first became aware of Christopher's work a long time ago – maybe as many as 14 years ago. It was through Duckie, the queerish cabaret collective he's a part of. I remember attending a walking tour he did around east London. It was very funny and witty. He did this big Victorian act, spouting all this faith-healer rhetoric, but with such passion and magnetism. Among the many things Chris does is stage hypnotism. He is a singing hypnotist; he hypnotises people through song. I have to say it doesn't surprise me. He is so convincing, and has the most piercing gaze.

I was in Australia on a book tour a few years ago, and it turned out he was there too. We almost met – I know he wanted to – but it didn't quite happen. But he did write me a letter, saying he wanted to collaborate on something, and that we should meet up to discuss it.

I have never collaborated with anyone on anything. As a novelist, you tend to be a control freak, in charge of everything. I take a very long time writing. I do it slowly, get a lot of things wrong and spend most of my time rewriting. So the idea of working with someone else, to deadlines, was terrifying.

When we did finally meet, at the National Gallery café, he arrived wonderfully turned out, in a typically striking suit – Chris is always very strikingly dressed – and we chatted over the idea of adapting an old book, The Frozen Scream [the 1928 supernatural murder-mystery novel by CC Gilbert]. I confessed my nerves but also admitted I was tempted. He said that my involvement could be really small because I was so nervous, but every time we met, I couldn't help but get carried away with the idea, and it became a proper collaboration.

I think we have a similar aesthetic, but we are different. He is this gregarious performer; I am quiet and shy. I'm neurotic, but I think he is as well. We learnt that we were both quite interested in other people's neuroses; we like to find out what makes people tick.

Chris made the whole collaborative process very easy for me, and I had such a good time working with him. And I learnt that it is a very useful experience to let go, to stop being a control freak.

Invariably when we meet, we talk about work, but not all the time. We've been talking a lot about Downton Abbey, especially a recent scene of Anna in Piccadilly Circus, where there was this terrible CGI that made Downton look like a German expressionist movie.

When I am writing novels, I am always thinking about the reader. Chris thinks a lot about his audiences, too. He doesn't merely want polite clapping, he wants full interaction. I find that exciting and inspiring, so I like to think we might collaborate again.

Christopher Green, 45

A playwright, director, artist and comedy performer, Derbyshire-born Green studied at Goldsmiths College in London, where he now lives. His characters include faux country singer Tina C and pensioner rapper Ida Barr

I became a huge fan of Sarah's books after reading Tipping the Velvet. I've read all her books since then. When The Night Watch came out [in 2006], my husband – who has since died – went to a book signing and got her to sign a copy for me. They must have discussed me, because what she wrote was: "To Chris, I'm a big fan." So we have my husband to thank for the fact that we eventually met, and became friends.

She is a wonderful writer, and combines plot and detail so very well. I love the creepy atmosphere in her books, and I thought she would be the perfect person to collaborate with me on The Frozen Scream. I tend to do very immersive productions, where the audience can join in, and what I wanted from Sarah was to make the whole thing tightly constructed and wonderfully spooky.

It took a while to come to fruition only because it took so long for us to meet. I was in Australia a few years ago, doing promotion at a radio station, and found out that she was due in later the same day. I rather sadly hung around in the hope that we might bump into each other, but she was late and so I left a note.

But she did eventually respond to my note, and we met in London. It turned out that we share a lot of the same cultural references. We both love an awful lot of bad TV from the 1970s and 1980s, and I suppose there is also something quite generational about our friendship – a gay man and a lesbian…

We bonded over orange juice and biscuits, and our collaboration subsequently proved very straightforward, with a nice flow to it, no flashpoints, no arguments. I think that is because we are quite similar as people. We are both terribly polite. If we are on a train, for example, and the inspector comes asking for tickets, we both jump up straight away.

We also like to eat a lot; we snack. It's an important part of our working day. Do we drink together? No, just snack. The most dangerous thing we do together, I'm afraid, is discuss how much 82 per cent dark chocolate we'll be able to manage in a single day.

I have really enjoyed this experience with her. The play, I think, is looking great, so the worst thing that could happen is that, once it opens, she simply says to me, "Yeah, that was all right." I want more than that. I want to do justice to the work we've done together, so I need to up my game as director and actor to make sure she loves it as much as I do.

'The Frozen Scream', by Sarah Waters and Christopher Green, and starring Rula Lenska, runs at the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff (, from 11 to 20 December