The Demon Headmaster filmed live at Elstree

When a global pandemic strikes, it’s time to think outside the box.  This term, Head of Drama Mrs Oliver enrolled the services of photographer and videographer Jonathan Bond, to film The Demon Headmaster on location at Elstree. An edited version, was then screened to pupils, staff and parents via YouTube last week. If you missed it first time around, and would like to see it, here’s your chance again now (click here). 

The Demon Headmaster

The Demon Headmaster is a play by Adrian Flynn, based on the famous novel series by Gillian Cross. The Hunter family take in a foster child ‘Dinah Glass’, who attends the same school as her foster brothers. Quickly, Dinah discovers there are strange things going on at the school. The Demon Headmaster and his team of evil prefects are controlling the pupils and teachers – using hypnotism.

With the help of the outcasts/“normals” (wearing yellow), Dinah investigates what the headmaster is up to and eventually uncovers an evil plan. In between these scenes, we are introduced to Eddy Hair, a TV presenter, who hosts a chaotic variety and school quiz show. The Headmaster seems to have an ambitious plan to appear on this show…but why?

Elstree’s production of The Demon Headmaster

Every Year 8 pupil took part in the Elstree production of The Demon Headmaster. But unlike a stage version where all cast members are visible, being filmed, there are only fleeting glimpses of some of the cast in the final cut. 

The play is largely set at a school, so it was possible to film each scene in the actual location referred to in the play.  It takes us from the dining room, to the assembly hall, outside on the sports courts, and back in to the Library.

While the final product is edited to a slick 50 minute film, the production has involved a whole term’s work and involvement outside the Drama department. Behind the scenes, there was a huge amount of planning. Locations needed to be booked, lighting rigged up, set designs built, props and costumes made. Furthermore, there was character development and learning lines.

 Stand-out performances

When asked which cast members delivered a memorable performance, Mrs Oliver said:

“George as Dinah Glass, who performed with great intensity and gusto. Harry as Eddy Hair, delivered his scenes perfectly as the crazy American talk show host. Tom delivered his lines with flawless hypnotic vocal tones as the Demon Headmaster, along with Timothy and Baffour as his evil prefect sidekicks.  Meanwhile Oli, Ferdy, Torren, and Toby gave fantastic vocal characterisation and noteworthy performances.

A special mention goes to the Year 8 Band – Chenyu. Jerry, Rei and Ben – who played a chirpy version of Let it Snow.  Lachy and Jamie (under Mr Smith’s careful guidance) also showed off their technical skills by operating the lighting for the scenes in the McMullen Hall.”

Comedic out-takes of The Demon Headmaster

So, which takes ended up on the cutting room floor and why? Here Mrs Oliver fills us in on those laugh-out-loud moments behind-the-scenes:

“Billy’s pan-faced poshness as the boffin quiz contestant sent everyone screaming with laughter.  Everyone had to contain their giggles every time they looked at Henry as Eddy’s glamorous assistant, complete with shiny purple shoulder pads and a natural 80’s hair curl.  When Jamie who played a sweet girl got cream pied by Harry (Eddy Hair), and pretty looking Oliver getting soaked from head to toe in “vinegar”!”

She went on: “The staff supporting the play quickly learnt to “run away” from the cameraman to avoid being filmed in the scene. This little back and forth dance caused much amusement on the playground.”

And finally: “Mr Attwood was suitably cast in a lead role as car park traffic officer, which included gently steering our postman (donned in Christmas gear) away from the SPLAT trio – Torren, Oli and George – at the risk of getting filmed in front of the school.”

Spectacular scenes

There are always complicated and more challenging scenes to choreograph and coordinate, so which ones were these and why? Mrs Oliver observed:

“Towards the end, the SPLAT gang – Jonty, Tom, Alex, George, Oli and Torren – watches a video tape of the Eddy Hair Show to find some clues to the Headmaster’s plan. This is a tricky scene as there is a lot going on.  The gang watches the show from the stage area, while the Eddy Hair crew and contestants act in front of the stage. Whenever the SPLAT gang needs to rewind the tape, the actors have to move and speak “backwards”.”

“A really effective scene, especially on camera was set in the cellar. We had to squeeze in to create a scary basement setting, as well as switch off the lights to create the illusion that Harvey Hunter (played by Torren) is turning off the entire school’s main switch. It was a really tense and exciting scene and wouldn’t have been as exhilarating if it hadn’t been filmed.”

Final comment from Head of Drama at Elstree

“I’m extremely proud of Year 8 and their confident acting, musical and technical skills. This was their first full length play and most of the cast had a huge amount of lines to learn. As is the case with modern plays, there were also a lot of overlap and flashbacks, but everyone rose to the challenge. The larger group scenes in the dining hall and outside on the (very cold) playground were really well synchronised, and everyone sustained their hypnotised characters throughout. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the film genre, as well as using the many settings to create interesting drama and it was great to see them having so much fun too. Well done, Year 8!”

“Thanks also to Mr Duarte for props, Mr Attwood for logistics, Mr Smith for lighting, the maintenance team for preparing the stage and outdoor settings, and Mr Jon Bond for filming.”