Underneath Dreamland in Margate is a maze of dusty corridors. Nobody comes here anymore. They were dressed years ago to make a scary maze, with plastic spiders and old wall coverings, mannequins and puppets and old furniture and fake cobwebs. There’s even a cornfield. It feels like a haunted Punchdrunk set. With disuse, the spiders and the ghosts have moved back in. The cobwebs are mostly real. It’s ridiculously freaky here. The hair on the back of my neck keeps prickling. Nobody in their right mind would come down here on purpose…
We’ve been here for hours. The lights don’t even work, of course, so it’s headtorches and the portable lights we’ve brought. We’re filming a promo for “Screamland”, the Dreamland Halloween event. If the result is anything like as scary as the shoot, then mission accomplished. We have spent hours in a ghastly basement in the dark thinking about ghosts.
There’s five of us, and Sandy is dressed up as a woman who was strangled here many years ago. Her ghost still haunts these corridors. The people who work for Dreamland are pretty convinced they’ve seen her ghost in this horrible pitch black maze, or flittering around the scenic railway. I’m jumping at shadows down here. I want to get out, and it’s only 8pm. “Now let’s do some shots with this bath, because it’s fucking horrible,” says Dan who is directing. I have a sinking feeling that when we watch the footage back there’ll be two screaming women in the bath, not just Sandy… If we live to see the footage, that is. Maybe we’ll die down here and in years to come a film crew will come and make a movie about our disappearance and we’ll haunt them and it’ll go cyclical.
I escaped. I’m out under the sky again. We spent much of the rest of the night in Dreamland switching on rides for shots, catching bits of light and angles in helter skelters and roller discos and dodgems.
They’ve done such a good job rebuilding this place. After the horrible subterranean tunnels, the shiny rides like the waltzers were a merciful relief. It was a calm autumn evening, crisp with the sea air, and under the stars we could see enough not to be dropping lenses and stumbling over cables. We wrapped just before 1am, and now we’re all heading back in the van. A good day of work.
I had no idea this whole day was going to happen until my phone rang at 1pm. I was sitting in my dressing gown recording 10 different germ voices into a 14 second track, naively thinking that that would be the extent of the random for Sunday. Fat chance. I like that people think of me for these last minute jobs.
Last time I worked in Margate the job came as a surprise too. There was something very complete about unexpectedly returning to make a piece of marketing for Dreamland with no notice.
Maybe seven years ago I played the artist Turner and a modern day Margate councillor in a timejumping piece of theatre to do with the need to regenerate Margate – and specifically to reopen Dreamland. We played at the beautiful Margate Theatre Royal. At one point we had a scene where I ended up decrying (in a thick Margate accent that I mostly taught myself by standing in Macdonald’s with a dictafone) how Dreamland was being left to rot. It was a lovely whimsical piece written by the head writer of The Archer’s back then. We put it on just before the Turner contemporary art gallery was opened and perhaps it was part of the movement that led to the rebirth of Dreamland. It was bloody hard work as I never came off stage and had to keep changing character, and I’d only got the call a week before we opened – (the director had sacked an actor.) Crazy week. Thank God for my spongebrain. And what a treat to walk around that iconic pleasure park, and see the gorgeous work that has been done to raise it up for another generation and fill it with colour and light.