The story of a sound engineer recording effects for an Italian horror film is coming to the Donmar Warehouse. It’s not a gorefest, say its director and writer
The first thing you see when you walk into the Donmar rehearsal space is a control room taking up the whole of one wall. The actor Enzo Cilenti sits behind glass issuing orders impatiently in a thick Italian accent to three of his co-stars, who are squeezed around a microphone in a smaller booth opposite; one of them, Tom Brooke, the soldier-turned-sniper from the BBC thriller Bodyguard, looks as amusingly bewildered as Beaker from The Muppet Show. Props strewn around the room include an axe, a Tom and Jerry music box and a cabbage with a knife lodged in it. Someone is looking for a misplaced electric toothbrush, though this turns out to be a matter of sound effects rather than dental hygiene. An engineer says, “Let’s put some reverb on that,” while two men relax in chairs nearby. They are wearing caretaker coats and high heels.
Picking his way through this scene in tracksuit bottoms, T-shirt and socks is Tom Scutt, an acclaimed stage designer who has also worked as creative director for Christine and the Queens. Scutt is making his directing debut on this theatrical version of Peter Strickland’s chilling 2012 film Berberian Sound Studio, about a timid analogue recordist named Gilderoy (Toby Jones on screen, Brooke in this version) who travels to Italy in the mid-1970s to record foley for a giallo – one of those florid, operatic chillers where the deaths are almost as painful as the dialogue. Only one cast member, Strickland’s regular collaborator Eugenia Caruso, appears in both play and movie, though she hasn’t brought any reminiscences to the rehearsal room. “There are so many deviations from the film, it would be irrelevant,” explains the writer, Joel Horwood.