For Richard & Jennifer Claverhouse and their baby daughter Gwendolyn we used audio and a ridiculous stunt.
The newly-wed Richard & Jennifer and their young daughter moved in with their cousin Godfrey in 1921, after they were forced to close down their family home to save money due to Richard’s gambling debts.
Godfrey tricked Richard into believing he’d gambled away the family estate. When Richard finally told Jennifer, she cracked and shot him, then threw her daughter and herself out of a first floor window.
Discovering the Story
The players knew, from family history and newspaper clippings, that there had been a murder/suicide of cousins to the family. They didn’t know the exact circumstances, as official reports mentioned the shooting, but Jennifer’s death was simply put down to a fall. We left that deliberately hazy, for reasons explained below.
Some of the players had previous links to the couple, having been bridesmaids at the wedding; they had letters of thanks.
Two of the players were sleeping in what had been the couple’s bedroom. There they found a crib with baby Gwendolyn’s name on, family photos of the three, and a dried bridal bouquet.
Also concealed in the house were letters about Richard’s gambling debts, and the deeds to the family estate.
On Friday night the players heard the young couple arguing, but could never pin down where the voices came from. Similarly, they heard a baby crying. And occasionally a gunshot.
Sometimes, if you stood next to the billiard room, you could hear a party going on inside it – people laughing and talking, and voices urging Richard to bet on the outcome. Going inside the room, there was no sign of anyone there.
On the Saturday night, they heard the gunshot, and then found splattered blood in a nearby bathroom.
In the early hours of Sunday morning, at about 3am, the couple sleeping in that first-floor bedroom were woken by a gunshot, and then heard a baby crying. The young woman from the pictures ran into the room brandishing a revolver, her baby cradled in one arm. She was crying, and shouting, trying to warn off people following her (that only she could see). She ran over to the window and pulled it open, again keeping people back with her gun. Then she threw the baby out of the window.
Then she jumped out after it.
When anyone summoned up the courage to look out of the window, there was nothing to be seen.
Behind the Scenes
We used our standard audio systems for this, with a bit of blood splatter. Then there was the main set piece stunt.
Happily, we have Kiera Gould Thomas, who’s done many such stunts before.
During the night we snuck out a large pile of cardboard boxes (fairly standard for such stunts) and a crash mat on a tarpaulin and placed them under the window. When she jumped out and landed on the boxes, 8 of us picked up the tarpaulin and rushed everything round the corner – it took around 8 seconds. The goal being that the players shouldn’t see anything when they looked out of the window.
You can see a video of the rehearsal for this below.
Writing The Story Backwards
An interesting point here is that the story of our ghosts was devised as a result of the stunt requirements. We designed the stunt first, and then the ghosts. For example:
- The baby was added to the scene as a sucker-punch for the players. The idea was that once they’d seen the baby thrown out of the window, out of character they would think ‘oh, that’s it, that’s the gag, the baby’s a fake’. And just as they were inwardly relaxing, the girl jumped. Once again, ‘Scare the players, not the characters’
- The gun was added to the scene as a notional barrier to stop the players leaping out of the bed to try to interfere with / stop the stuntwoman.
- The crib was added to the scene to make sure the players couldn’t pile anything in front of the window.
So given those basics, we then had to work out why the girl was running into the room with the gun and the baby, and the rest – including the supporting audio and documents – came from there.