Writer: James Phillips
Director: Brett Chapman
Since its foundation in 2000 Leeds-based theatre company Slung Low has built its reputation on site-specific productions in non-theatre spaces. At a time when none of us is getting to theatre productions in any kind of spaces, Slung Low has just posted a half-hour film, dystopian, atmospheric and oddly hopeful, on its website.
The Good Book also uses the forces of the recently formed Leeds People’s Theatre, 100 or so in number, to produce some convincingly aggressive crowd scenes of riot and protest. One of the strengths of the film is its blend of the familiar world of Leeds – notably Holbeck, where Slung Low is based – and a future on the brink of civil war. The streets look normal, old-fashioned terraces, but with armed soldiers – with pseudo-medieval tabards bearing the cross of St. George – at street corners. An equally old-fashioned club is similarly subverted: loyal subjects sing God Save the Queen, not only with changed words, but with the tune gradually distorted and the image of Queen Bear on the wall. A brief outburst of violence, an alarm set off and an innocent man is arrested by the street-corner squad.
James Phillips’ script is sparse and allusive, the story more expressive than explanatory. A short time in the future Leeds – Phillips and director Brett Chapman keep their focus local – is torn by conflict between the followers of the ruling Queen Bear and the revolutionaries of Galahad. Avalon, a young woman who prefers neutrality, has friends on both sides of the divide and finds herself committed to rescuing a book from the closed Public Library. The film ends with the contrast between the turmoil and violence on the streets and the serenity of hope.
Riana Duce is convincingly intense as Avalon, but also reassuringly normal and, for the most part, effectively underplayed. In fact the more personal scenes in general are refreshingly lacking in melodrama, apart from one over-the-top moment near the end.
Brett Chapman’s direction is economical and makes good use of familiar cityscapes, usually atmospherically underlit, the subdued hole-and-corner dialogue scenes contrasting with well-handled crowd violence, the massed ranks of Leeds People’s Theatre creating a full-blooded impression of urban rioting. Heather Fenoughty’s music always intensifies the drama and, rather surprisingly, the final sounds are left – most evocatively – to the music of Hildegard of Bingen.