Saturday 31 August 2013

Jenny Gayner - Actress and producer

Jenny Gayner

Regular readers to these pages will know that I have particular soft spots for musical theatre on stage and the horror genre on screen. Since my twitter following has modestly grown over the months, I have come to discover that I am not alone in enjoying this eclectic combination and that there are quite a number of folk out there who can adore a full on jazz-hands routine on a Saturday night yet still find time for some popcorn-fuelled slashery and torture on a Sunday.

Of course, the connection between musical theatre and horror is actually nothing new. One of the longest running musicals Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom Of The Opera is at heart nothing more than a very frightening Gothic horror story set to music, yet many (most?) of those who pack out London’s Her Majesty’s Theatre or those numerous other venues where the show plays around the world, would not dream of buying a ticket for, or downloading, an 18-certificate horror tale. In a slightly different vein(!) musical theatre horror and humour have often gone hand in hand with Menken and Ashman’s Little Shop of Horrors being probably the most well known take on that particular pastiche style, though Drewe and Rowe’s Zombie Prom is another example of composers blending horror, humour and music into a quirky cocktail, whilst the same pair’s The Witches of Eastwick, famed as a musical comedy, has at its core a horrifically satanic fable. Thus the bloody fantasies of horror have a long and macabre association with the far frothier fantasy world of musical theatre’s harmonies and dance routines.  

So it was therefore a delight, on attending the press night of Chris Burgess’ Sleeping Arrangements (reviewed here) at London’s Landor Theatre earlier this year, to learn that accomplished musical theatre trouper Jenny Gayner, was not only starring in the soon to be released horror flick The Addicted, but that she’d actually gone and produced the movie too. It made for a pleasant hour as we chatted about these two very different dark and light aspects of the fantasy spectrum.

Prior to the relatively short Landor run, Gayner had already achieved a fine reputation for her work in Chicago (understudying Roxie Hart), as well as appearances in Spamalot, The Rocky Horror Show and a Manchester based production of A Chorus Line. She knows her musicals and her lengthy association with Chicago, both on its UK tour and in the show’s final London months testify to her talents. But she is also a woman who likes her horror. It may have to be bloody if necessary but above all and as with her musical theatre work, it must be built around a strong story. 

There are some films that Gayner finds too difficult to enjoy. She quotes Eli Roth’s Hostel,(based upon a horrific and true reported story, of wealthy men in the Far East who paid huge sums for the “pleasure” of torturing naive young westerners) as a film that was just too real for her liking and, notwithstanding the story’s strength, she found its reality too unpleasant to watch. For Gayner, a story needs to be credible but also fantastic. She speaks praisingly of the 2009 remake of Last House On The Left, a tale that opens with a harrowing rape and by a turn of events delivers the rapists into the hands of the victim’s parents. It’s a thrilling revenge tale, with scenes that are often graphically portrayed, yet it is also well written fantasy and knowing that the story is pure make-believe and with its heart also very much in the right place (suffice to say the villains meet grisly ends) is horror that works for her.

Gayner (l) on set in The Addicted

The Addicted will soon be available on satellite TV distribution, no mean achievement in itself for a first-time independent feature and Gayner has relished the challenge of producing a full length movie and the challenges that go with the process. Securing funding was an initial hurdle, though with independent horror being famed as a low-budget entry to movie-making, the film’s £10,000 cost was not ridiculously out of reach. Managing the sheer logistics of the movie was of course a task in itself and Gayner chuckles as she recalls frantically managing the project both from home and her Chicago dressing room! As for the film, its a gritty gruesome fantasy set around an abandoned drug rehab clinic. Suffice to say it opens with a scarily high body count but to add any more comment would be to spoil.

Its all happening for Jenny right now. The Addicted is available on satellite from September 1st, whilst the end of the month will see her solo cabaret night at London’s Pheasantry, accompanied by some stellar guests. A stylish embodiment of the classic “triple-threatening” performer, of actress singer and dancer, Gayner is all that a musical theatre professional should be, but now as an emerging producer of horror movies, she is defining herself as an innovator, keen to challenge and to explore new methods of entertaining an audience. A woman who at all times combines the professional attributes of excellence and enthusiasm, who knows… her arrival as a movie producer could yet prove addictive!

Jenny Gayner performs at The Pheasantry on September 28th , for details and tickets, click here.

The Addicted is available via satellite broadcast from September 1st

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