David-Benjamin Tomlinson’s play Gash is inspired by one of his favourite film genres, hag horror. Several years ago, Tomlinson was involved with a program at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre called The Shakespeare Experiment. He played a buxom gal with massive, curly hair. “I hadn’t done a lot of drag, and when I strapped on these big boobs and this big hair, a change occurred in the room: people suddenly found me hugely imposing,” he says. The experience rekindled his interest in hag horror.
Hag horror is also known as grande dame guignol or psycho-biddy. The three most notable film examples of the genre, all by director Robert Aldrich, are What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice and Hush . . . Hush, Sweet Charlotte.
In the late 1960s and early ’70s, many prominent but aging actresses found it hard to find work in mainstream movies but were willing to work hard in whatever roles they managed to land. A genre was born! “Hag horror films all kind of feature an older woman, usually played by a prominent Hollywood actress past her prime — in the way the industry perceived it — and she’s in peril or she’s crazy,” Tomlinson says.
While the film industry may have viewed these women as past their prime, Tomlinson is adamant in his appreciation for their roles: "I love strong women. And these actresses were not doing bad jobs in these roles. What they were doing didn't necessarily fit the films they were in, but they were working very hard and that deserves respect."
In a Quentin Tarantino-esque approach, Tomlinson has taken the formula of a genre he loves, given it a contemporary spin, and created an homage. “The play is about a pair of sisters who live in a house (a crumbling old mansion, as is always the way) with a giant staircase (there always seems to be a giant staircase, and somebody inevitably falls down it). Mother is in an insane asylum after murdering their father 30 years prior, and they’re marking the anniversary of that murder with a dinner,” he says.
This will be the first public reading of the play, and Tomlinson is eager to see how the audience responds. The reading will be directed by Clinton Walker and performed by Bruce Beaton, Elley-Ray Hennessy, Moynan King, Shane MacKinnon, Carolyn Taylor, Ryan Kelly and Tomlinson himself.