Eye to eye with a dead man
The last person I expected to see on press night at Eden Court’s panto was a man who had been murdered the night before. But John McManus, co-director of Peter Pan, was looking surprisingly well on it.
He had been murdered in cold blood by Wilf, Alyssa, and Amanda, the double-crossers of the sensational reality TV series ‘The Traitors’.
I couldn’t help but say hello, but John, while utterly gracious, didn’t want his role in the hit show to detract from the opening night of Panto. “Call me later,” he offered. So, I did.
It’s the morning after the finale of The Traitors (no spoilers, other than that John was dispatched in episode five of 12) and I’m just off the phone to him. Despite being described in the series as a Spa Therapist (his secondary job), he is primarily an actor.
The ultimate game of deception
The series was the ultimate game of deception. In Ross-shire’s Ardross Castle, 22 contestants worked together by day to earn a prize pot of up to £120,000, which would be split amongst the last surviving contestants. Among the Faithfuls were three Traitors, who the group had to try to identify, and banish at a nightly ‘Round Table’. Each night, the Traitors would also murder.
Using the skills he honed as an actor, John identified one of the Traitors, and that insight, combined with his popularity amongst the others, made him a threat to their success. Hence his early demise.
But what was it really like?
But what was it really like, being in the midst of that psychological gameplay? John took a deep breath. He didn’t take another for about 15 minutes.
“It was intense,” he implored. “We had no watches, no phones or tablets, and there was security on every floor of our hotel, making sure we didn’t go out unaccompanied. It felt like we were in a luxury prison!”
“The only time we were alone,” he continued, “was when we got back to our rooms at night, and that was after midnight. Then we were anxious, going over everything we had said and heard during the day, and worrying if we’d be murdered. Then there was the early morning wakeup call and we’d be back to the castle to be miked up, and wonder who would come down for breakfast.”
Friends for Life
But he made friends for life, 21 others with whom he hopes to maintain a deep and lasting connection.
“People think we can’t have got to know each other, because we were only in there for five minutes, but we formed friendships really, really quickly. In that environment you’re looking for allies and alliances, because you need reassurance. You need somebody to believe that you’re a Faithful. But it’s really hard to convince some.”
“I even started doubting myself,” he laughed, “I was thinking ‘I hope I don’t slip up and say something a traitor would say!’ It sounds crazy, because we had to think about everything that came out of our mouths all the time. The environment made us all paranoid.”
It was a tense, thrilling experience
Mindful of the impact that reality shows can have on contestants – we all know the tragic impact of Love Island – the BBC and Studio Lambert employed a psychologist, and all contestants were rigorously assessed to ensure they could cope with the show’s inevitable stresses.
Rightly so. Even as a viewer it was a thrilling, tense experience. For every hour of viewing we watched, the contestants lived through 24.
The last to be cast, the now 50-year-old from Edinburgh loved his time in the castle. But even the contestants were kept in the dark about the eventual outcome, and had to watch it along with the rest of us.
“I couldn’t be more thrilled for the winners,” John smiled, “they played a really good game. But I don’t think I could have been a Traitor!”
“I adore Inverness and the Highlands”
Fate brought John back to the Highlands as director of Peter Pan, which delighted him.
“I didn’t get to see as much of the Highlands as I would have liked while I was in the series,” he explained, “but coming back gave me the chance to visit some amazing places, like Loch Ness and Randolph’s Leap.
“I loved watching [the series] – it was so beautifully shot, like a film, like a VisitScotland advert. Tourism this year will be mental! I feel so proud to have been a Scottish contestant in the first series of a show that showed this beautiful part of the country. I have a really strong feeling I’ll be back, I adore Inverness, and the Highlands are just so hospitable.”
The BBC have already commissioned a second series. Have you got what it takes?
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