As we blogged last week the fine Lass O’Gowrie in Manchester continued their tradition of support for comics and science fiction with a new stage adaptation of one of early 2000 AD’s more unusual series, Alan Moore and Ian Gibson’s brilliant Halo Jones (see here for Mutt Badham’s interview about the play with the Lass’ Gareth Kavanagh). Our own wandering fan James Bacon decided to traverse The Hoop to check it out for himself:
This play was a stunning performance, the greatest and most honest interpretation of an Alan Moore comic, and I saw it tonight in Manchester in a pub.
The Lass looks very nice from the outside and inside the theatre space is unusual. I wonder what way I should be facing, but the chairs and stools soon fill up, and the stage is more of a space the length of the room, with two open areas, one raised. All of it is put to good use, creating an intimate performance.
I worry; Halo Jones is no ordinary comic character. She is one of Alan Moore’s finest creations. Ian Gibson’s artwork was perfect for the science fictional world, his depictions of Halo endearing her to young men and boys as she appeared in 2000AD in the mid eighties. I came to the books as a teenager, and felt connected to her story, her life on the Hoop, her honesty, her trials and tribulations with her friends, the near-dystopia future where there is no work, only discrimination, consumer madness and a useless government who care for nothing but themselves (so nothing at all like contemporary society, eh? – Joe).
Before the play starts, I am all too mindful of how other works by Alan Moore which been adapted for the screen lack the quality that his writing possesses, of how I have always prepared myself mentally to try and enjoy these movies for what they are, just movies trying to be something but not the actual work of the greatest comic story teller. I will not be able to write a word if this play disappoints, yet I am poised, expectant and hopeful, open to whatever comes.
People are friendly as the seats fill up, and then the house is not just full; it’s standing room at the back and more. I wonder if there is a reason why there are so many more girls here than boys. That’s seems to be counter intuitive, but then Halo Jones has always been a favourite of my comic reading friends who are girls, and there are no rules about who can enjoy art.
Quick music comes on – unusual but catchy, like a news cast, and out pops Swiftly Frisco played by Zoe Iqbal reading the Dataday Day to Day updates. She is perfectly overtly false, her accent American, giving the audience a sense of place, and her exaggerated facial expression and unnecessary body movement emphasising her character as a diva-esque personality.
This is the newsreader of the day; this is the Hoop; the jargon and terminology of science fiction is imparted as is the occasion, setting and feel of the story.
Four young ladies walk on: Halo, Rodice, Brinna and Ludy. Wearing an olive green field cap and an expression of gentle awe, Louise Hamer portrays the eighteen-year-old Halo Jones to perfection, and her aspects of admiration and pleasure as she stares at the Clara Pandy off in the distance.
With these women is Toby, a robot dog; the simplicity of a metal face mask and, surprisingly, a strong Northern Ireland accent gives Toby a distinct voice, cleverly turning this actor into the science fictional being that he is.
Rodice is immediately at odds with Toby, and the humour and sarcasm comes in a steady stream, telling Toby to go taste a stick. Claire Dean plays Rodice well, perky and feisty while subtly conveying that some of it’s bluster and in moments of fear and threat she is not quite as tough as she would like. Brinna and Ludy complete this group, and as Ludy sings gently, her feelings for the Clara Pandy vocalised, this outburst of song surprised me somewhat, but actor Paida Noel carried it off very well, Ludy being in a band, and her youth, and Brinna’s age and experience, her reassuring and calm exterior, gently played by Michelle Ashton come across exquisitely.
Then, drummers walk through, and Toby wards them off. Their costume, the implant, their nodding heads and ominous dress all convey an immediate sense of danger and malice which the girls’ reactions reinforce. ‘There she pops’, and stage far left, just beside us a fight breaks out, and the girls are on the move.
I wonder how close to the original this work can actually get; I know that it is not word perfect, but it feels that way. It feels right.
And the story follows the books quite nicely. As we continue through Book One, the dynamic between Jones and Rodice is pitched absolutely perfect – friends but different. I loved Halo’s desperation about the shopping expedition, and even better, and with much laughter from the crowd, Brinna as she wondered about cheese, which was explained as -congealed mammary excretions. The story is so connected to the world of today, be it the way Swifty goes on about fat or the punishment of rioters with brain surgery. The humour of Snivelling Earthquake, Rodice getting her heel stuck, and the oddness of the Fashionista consumers are all getting the audience reactions.
These are steady performances. In the moments of stress and upset, they became impeccable portrayals, as when Jones sees Ludy as a drummer, her agitation and frustration, and then her distress with the subsequent loss of Brinna. The realness of Rodice and Halo—in a sense Book One is as much Rodice as Halo Jones. But this is the Halo Jones I always imagined. A wondrous mix in one character, naïve, beautifully aspirational in a way, discontent, immediately identifiable, and her departure, moving, sad but necessary, as she continues her journey, leaving the hoop to work as a hostess on the Clara Pandy. The moments with Rodice here are realistic and convincing and make me feel like I am seeing the comic come to life.
I spend the interval refining my notes, wondering why the world seems to eschew works such as this, honest to the story and fantastically acted – I feel lucky in a way, in the knowledge that I have been fortunate enough to see this portrayal.
Book Two starts at 7.45, and Laura Cope plays the Hostess Toy Molto with the power that the character needs. Halo identified her as the toughest person she knows, and her strong accent–East London I think–quick talking, stunning looks and confident style again make me smile. This character is perfectly juxtaposed against that of Glyph, neither a boy, nor a girl, never happy as either, and after 47 remoulds not anything really except boring, which it explains to the girls. Toy and Halo drift off into non interest and then a form of catatonia and then somehow, and hilariously, just return to their own world, Glyph callously or innocently ignored as it continues, only realising too late that the momentary attention has already drifted away.
The way that both Halo and Toy easily seem to ignore Glyph even as the crowd laughs, as actor Danny Wallace comes across so pitiful and meek and yet the sad humour of the situation is again a credit to the team’s performance. Glyph spoke to the audience or to no one, looking out, and Wallace was able to do this with great skill, again here I felt that somehow the character had been realised realistically.
(Louise Hamer as Halo Jones in the new stage play, pic by James)
I was impressed how the Dolphin navigator Kititrik Tikrikitit is displayed on a screen, so solving a potential pitfall; likewise the rat king is portrayed as bright eyes in the shadows, again on screen. These were clever moments of neat stage and story management, that allowed the sequence to flow well.
And again, the performances are key: the voice of Phil Dennison who played the terrorist from the Tarantula Emancipation Army, ready to kill for his cause, the way he takes Halo hostage, the strong reminder that terrorism or people fighting for their freedom is always close to home, Toby’s violence, and Halo’s fear and disgust, and again, Hamer’s incredible performance adding the quintessential brilliance that is needed to create this drama and make it feel all so believable.
The play was enhanced by smart use of the characters; Brinna and Rodice coming back on stage when Halo was listening to the recording of them. Toby, who was played so well, by Ben Patterson was also dealt with astutely, the technicalities of his demise diverting from the comic somewhat, but in a way that didn’t impact upon the story and still conveyed Glyph’s non-entityness and part in this moment of action.
Toy and Halo were frequently very close to the audience, maybe a foot away, and yet fully concentrated on each other; at no stage did I see any of the cast distracted, or lose what must have been considerable concentration. If Rodice was a vital part to Book One, then Toy played by Laura Cope was equally as essential in Book Two, getting the best of responses from Hamer’s Jones.
Halo’s interaction with Mix Ninegold, an uncertainty, and subsequently her encounter with Mix and her standing up to Swiftly was nice, and of course she ended up getting a dance regardless.
And as Book Two started to come to a close, I knew the play would be ending; on Charlemagne, it comes to an inevitable close, Halo alone in many sense of the word, with a green skinned alien, playing a sad lament.
I had to smile, not just with pleasure, but in the realisation of how well Alan Moore’s words can translate onto the stage. I couldn’t remember what parts of the story were left out; there was no shame, just contentment that the stage writers, Ross Kelly and Ian Winterton, had skilfully given me more than enough to feel that this was indeed Halo Jones. It felt right.
I had to wonder too, at where the production had found all these performers, and although Hamer is in many ways, the star of the show, it felt like a real team performance, and that brought out the best in everyone. It was natural, and the intelligent use of space and the quality of the performance’s must also be a credit to the directors, Daniel Thackery and Ross Kelly, and of course their team.
In this pub in Manchester, I wondered if I had just seen a level of integrity and honesty absent elsewhere, millions of dollars spent and yet all failing to capture what was here a brilliant realisation of a story from a comic book by a genius. Of course the visuals were those of the imagination, yet somehow these actors gave me what must be the best portrayal possible of a work of Alan Moore. I am just sorry that more people cannot see this performance, it truly deserves credit and to be appreciated for the quality that it is.
(James Bacon saw Howl’s Moving Castle at Southwark Playhouse last week, is going to Neverwhere at Reading Progress theatre in two weeks time, saw Richard the III three times on two different stages last year, and despite denying it, loves the stage. He failed to get back to London following this play, lines down, trains diverted, and cancelled, yet cheerfully diverted and stayed with friends, his evening’s entertainment not spoiled by such trivial matters.
In related news James and friends have a new issue of Journey Planet out and it is a Sherlock Holmes themed special, very timely given the return of the Magical Mr Moffat’s version of the Great Detective to our screens and the new film version; the 80 page fanzine, which includes thoughts on Holmes from John Reppion Leah Moore and Paul Cornell among others, is available free as a PDF here)