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The Ballad of Halo Jones, The Stage Play

January 2, 2012 1 comment

Manchester based pub and venue The Lass O’Gowrie is often on the cutting edge of nerd-cool, and plays host to a wide variety of geek friendly events1, so it was the natural venue of choice for the debut stage production of The Ballad of Halo Jones.

Halo Jones is a much-loved science fiction comic strip by notorious Northampton genius Alan Moore, and is famous for its epic, inter-galactic feel, domestic storyline, and social commentary. So adapting it into a stage-play was always going to be a feat, especially one designed for a small, intimate venue.

The limited space and obvious shoe-string budget have been skilfully turned into an advantage by the production company Scytheplays. A tale that takes us from the depths of a futuristic slum to the heights of space could easily have been achieved given a lavish budget, but is instead portrayed far more effectively through inspired acting and clever verbal cues in the script.

Art by Adrian Salmon

"Where did she go? Out. What did she do? Everything."

The actors are brilliantly cast. Those of you who fell in love with Halo in the pages of 2000AD should be prepared to be equally enchanted by Louise Hamer’s performance. Benjamin Patterson tackles the difficult task of playing the menacing robot dog2 Toby with great skill and care and clearly is having a ball doing so. For me, the most stand-out performance is by Danny Wallace, who plays the doomed, hopeless and sexless creature, The Glyph. It’s a role that requires comic timing, empathy and a gentle touch, and Wallace is perfect throughout.

The script strips the story down into two acts, each about an hour long and covers the first two books3. Fans of the original will be pleased to learn that no major changes to the storyline have been made, and the odder characters (Rats, Dolphins and TV newscasters) are handled in a believable sort of way. Those who’ve never read the book should brace themselves for strange future-speak and a bizarre, yet socially relevant story. The future-shock will pass as the play goes on, but I suspect the social commentary will stay with you.

The Ballad of Halo Jones is as important now as it was when it was first written in 1984, and is a tale that deserves to be heard by a wider audience. If you’re lucky enough to live in Manchester, and have a spare evening, do go and see the show.


1: “The Lass” has vintage video game nights, Doctor Who themed evenings and has played host to the likes of Professor Elemental and Mr B, The Gentleman Rhymer. If you’re lucky enough to live in Manchester, you should take advantage of The Lass.
2: In the graphic novel, Toby is a beautifully drawn robot dog. In the stage-play, they have more obvious limitations, and handle it through a carefully thought out interpretation of the source material. It also helps for Patterson’s performance is spot on.
3: The original work is in three books, the third being a strange, starship troopers style space war. It’d be hard to do well on the stage, and they wisely avoid it. This doesn’t detract from the production at all, especially when you consider that the original book was never properly finished.

Categories: Reviews, Theatre

One man versus unspeakable terrors

November 3, 2011 2 comments

If you’re a geek (or at least claim to be one) chances are that you’ll have read (or have claimed to have read) the HP Lovecraft short story The Call of Cthullhu. It’s a tale that defined an entire sub-genre of creepy, existential horror, and has inspired a great many creative types to come up with music, poetry, comic books and games.

What you rarely see is the story brought to stage or screen. After all, a tale about madness and lurking horror isn’t easy to pull off, and all too often, theatre and stage productions settle for a miserable compromise that is ‘inspired by the works of HP Lovecraft’ rather than getting on with the tricky task of telling the classic yarn in such a way that you get the same tingle of fear the original prose evokes.

Poor, doomed Inspector Legrasse

So it was with a no small amount of excitement1 that I went to see Michael Sabbaton’s one man production of The Call of Cthullhu at the Lowry this Halloween. Sabbaton has taken the simplest of approaches to the story; it’s him, a chair, a trunk and a box, and as fans of horror stories know, one should never open the box.

With the clever use of sound, smoke and lighting, the viewer is transported to Lovecraft Country, a place filled with madness, dread and fear. Sabbaton plays a variety of characters from the story, each one evoking the feeling of creeping darkness and inevitable insanity that one demands from a play named The Call of Cthullhu. The performance is remarkable and extremely well done, and it’s always interesting to hear someone pronounce “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn”1 without irony or geeky self-referencing (and instead, makes it sound like the ravings of the damned).

Part of the reason it works so well is because it’s simply one man, with many faces. A more complicated production would have detracted from the simple horror required to tell the story, and instead what we get is strong lesson in story telling.

The show is also quite short, it’s 50 minutes long, and well worth your time. The website for the show, promises further tour dates, so it’s worth a look to see if it’ll be near you sometime soon.


1: I was also with some marvellous company, of course.
2: Part of a fictional language called Aklo, invented by welsh writer Arthur Machen, who happened to be one of Lovecraft’s inspirations. As it happens, Penguin is releasing a collected book of Machen’s works in time for Christmas.

Categories: Reviews, Theatre

He looked out and said to me “run for your life!”

October 15, 2011 2 comments

These days, it seems you can’t be a fictional hero without having your own tourist attraction. Batman and Spiderman have their own roller coaster rides, Harry Potter has an entire theme park.

So what about The Doctor from the titular show, Doctor Who? Well, in a sort of way, he does. Crash of the Elysium is a Doctor Who themed theatrical production in which the audience play the starring role. Half ghost-train and half stage-play, you come face to face with one of the show’s most terrifying monsters, all the while running for your life. The overall experience is very evocative of everything we love about the show; thrills, chills, scary monsters and friendly time travelling space-wizards. The production is a theme-park ride with class and style, which is what you’d expect for such a venerable TV-show.

(c) BBC

The acting is superb and engaging

Crash of the Elysium is of course, brought to you by Punchdrunk a theatrical company who specialise in this sort of thing. The show begins gently (like all good theme park rides) and then picks up very quickly, one moment you’re browsing some dry looking museum exhibits and the next moment,you are in an environmental encounter suit, face to face with mild peril. I won’t say much more about the plot, but if you do get to see the show, I defy anyone to attend and not get completely sucked in.

The production is also firmly part of the current Doctor Who series. Co-written by show supremo Steven Moffat, it features nods and winks to the ongoing series all the way through. This is no ‘tribute’ to the show, this is another episode of the current incarnation of The Doctor presented in a unique way.

Crash of the Elysium is one of many show’s that premiered earlier this year at The Manchester International Festival, and you will be able to catch it as part of the London 2012 Olympic cultural celebrations. If you can, do bring along a small child, or borrow a friend’s small child if you don’t have one of your own. I attended the ‘Over 13’s’ show and it was mostly adults, despite the show being written for children, as some of the plot points are aimed squarely at the young. That said, everyone attending immediately turned into delighted (and well-behaved) children, utterly enchanted by the production, the plot and the acting. My only criticism is that it only an hour long, and that I’m going to have to wait till next year to go on this ride again.

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