Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith’s award-winning anthology Inside No 9 returns in a special live (dead?) edition for Halloween on October 28th on BBC Two at 10pm – 10.30pm. That’s UK time, other territories might have to wait a bit.
When Arthur Flitwick (Steve Pemberton) finds an old mobile phone in his local graveyard, he makes the mistake of trying to contact the owner. But some mysteries are best left unsolved, and as Halloween draws near Arthur is plunged into a nightmare of his own making. It seems that no good deed can go unpunished, in this world or the next. Guest stars include Stephanie Cole.
This marks the 25th story from the Inside No. 9 team. Dead Line stars and is written by Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith. The live episode is directed by Barbara Wiltshire and produced by Claire McCarthy.
BBC Media Centre have released a Q&A with Pembertson and Shearsmith.
How are preparations going?
Steve: It’s an unusual prospect for us - we’ve never done anything like this before. It’s much more like how they used to do it in the old days - a lot of prep, a lot of build-up, and one chance to get it right.
Why did you want to do a live episode?
Reece: We thought it would be a different thing to do because we’re always striving to do storytelling in a different way and thought it would be a nice event. Also it harks back to the ethos of No.9, which is a Play For Today and Armchair Thrillers thing.
Steve: It was actually the BBC’s suggestion, and when someone puts that challenge down it is really impossible to ignore. Especially as we have done other things like a whole silent episode, a musical episode and one set entirely in a wardrobe. We like the idea of putting a challenge into what we are doing.
How long has the idea for this particular story been gestating?
Reece: Probably from the summer. There’s a few things in the mix that we have wanted to explore as far as story elements go that have never quite fitted into anything else, so we have put them into this.
Is the story contemporary or a period tale?
Steve: It’s going to be contemporary. It is set in a No.9, as ever of course, and there is a man who I am going to play called Arthur and he’s coming home one night and finds an old telephone in a graveyard. He brings it home and tries to find out who owns it and that’s what kicks off the story. Obviously with it being a Halloween episode it is quite a spooky story and we wanted to draw on the lovely Halloween special creepiness of EC Comics and Tales From The Crypt.
Does the phone ring?
Steve: You’ll have to tune in!
Can you tell us anything about the guest stars?
Reece: There is only one, which is Stephanie Cole. We’ve always wanted to work with her - and nearly have a few times - and we are delighted that we will be working with her on this particularly special episode. I play a vicar who gets involved in the story down the line.
Are you both going to be nervous on the night?
Reece: I’m not that nervous about it... maybe it’s wrong to feel that, but having just done League Of Gentlemen Live for months, I feel that if we rehearse it well enough we will be all right. It’s like doing a play, you can’t get your lines wrong.
Steve: I think there will be nerves, you can’t stop adrenaline. I remember being in She Stoops To Conquer at the National Theatre and on the first night for no reason my hand was shaking when I was pouring a glass of wine - I tried to pass it onto my co-star Sophie Thompson as quickly as possible! It’s not necessarily nerves though, it’s adrenaline, and you need to put out of your head that what you are saying and doing at 10pm on that Sunday night is actually being watched by people all over the country. It’s crazy when you think about it.
Reece: But that’s how it used to be done all of the time and we just have to embrace that.
Have you done a live TV episode like this before?
Steve: No, and there hasn’t been that much of it. Mark (Gatiss) did the The Quatermass Experiment a few years ago on BBC Four, and there were a couple of commotions on that, such as a bit of the set falling over, and I think that’s what people want to see! We definitely want to make it the best we can.
Reece: It should just be a good episode of Inside No.9 that happens to be live.
Are audiences watching at home going to be scared?
Reece: With it being a Halloween-themed episode, it’s meant to be a bit more horror-like and hopefully that’s what we will deliver on. It’s not a comedy romp.
Have you done anything to make it easier on yourselves? For example, are there less lines to learn?
Steve: Well no, in a way we have made it harder as there are only three of us in the cast, and we did that because we thought it would be a bit simpler - so it does put the onus on us more.
As the episode is live, are there any restrictions regarding special effects or costume/make-up?
Steve: During the writing process we have to think, how are we going to achieve this? We did an episode of Psychoville a few years ago which was all in one take, and that was quite a challenge. There are always tricks, theatrical tricks, you can use and that’s what we have tried to think about. It’s like a ballet between us and the crew as we are moving around into different positions; it’s going to be an exciting evening and let’s hope it is scary in the right way.
Are you fans of Halloween in general?
Reece: I’ve held parties in the past and often go to Jonathan Ross’s Halloween party. For costumes I try and think of things that are a bit leftfield. One year I went as Anthony Hopkins and my son was dressed as the doll ‘Fats’ from the film Magic. I walked around carrying my son all night but he weighed a ton so realised half way through that was a big mistake!
Have either of you had a supernatural experience?
Reece: We did a ghost vigil for Radio 4 a few years ago. We stayed in this place called the Ram Inn in Bristol. There was some spooky goings on but it turned out it was Mark (Gatiss) that was doing it all along. We did a séance and there was some tapping under the table and I was really looking to see and make sure none of us were doing it but Mark at the end said, “yeah, that was me!”
Reece: I was all set to believe it and then he confessed it was him all along.
You’ve done various different version of Inside No.9, including musical versions, and now you are doing a live version. Is there one you would still like to conquer?
Reece: We have a few in series five. There are some things that are going to be very challenging.
Steve: We are still working on it. Sometimes you think you will save something for another series, but we want to get this hurdle done with first. I think what is hard is that when you have pulled a number of surprises, and really have genuinely shocked people, it is hard to continually do that. It does keep us on our toes and we have to work very hard. Our aim for the series as a whole is for people to think, my God I have never seen anything like that.
How does the writing process work between the two of you?
Steve: We always like to be in the same room, which a lot of writing partners don’t. So we have a little office and go to the same places for our lunch so it’s a really sociable time and we spitball a lot of ideas.
Reece: There is a lot of talking before we begin, so we make sure where we are going and that there is no fat on anything before we start writing. That’s really helped us over the years. We really know what we want to get out of a story before we write it.