When the Forbidden Planet International blog heard that there was going to be a new stage version of Halo Jones produced at the Lass O’Gowrie pub in Manchester (a spot already well known to local science fiction and comics fans), they sent roving reporter Bat Cardigan to find out what it was all about! The following interview — with Lass landlord and staunch comics and SF supporter and promoter, Gareth Kavanagh — is the result of Bat’s Mancunian adventure:
Bat: Gareth, who are you and why would what you’re doing be of interest to readers of the FPI blog?
Gareth: Well, over on Twitter I describe myself as “award-winning Northern hospitality operator, management consulting guru, publisher of Vworp Vworp and gentleman of the road…”. In essence, I own and operate the Lass O’Gowrie, a very nice little pub down the side of the old BBC [in Manchester] and publish a very nice fanzine and (with luck) comics if we can get the rights to the odd interesting property. I suppose it’s of interest because I use the Lass as a platform for all the things I love, so it’s festooned with original comic art, old collectables and vintage arcade machines. We also programme plenty of genre shows, including, come January, Russell T Davies’ Midnight and a brand new adaptation of Halo Jones.
B: Please tell us about this new production of Halo Jones? It’s not just a re-staging of the eighties stage play is it? Who’s involved and what’s your role?
G: No, it’s a fresh adaptation of Books One and Two, going back to the source material. The odd thing we’ll be looking at [changing] and there are a lot of healthy debates going on in the team as to location, characters and design. There are some practical things to get over too, so Toby is now a humanoid dog character to get him off all fours, but it works – trust me! I’m involved this time round as Producer, so I’m overseeing it, chipping in where I see fit and making useful suggestions. The chaps have termed me Joel Silver, which I’m taking in the spirit it was intended (honest; you’re fired, chaps!). Alongside me is Ross Kelly, who has been scripting, Daniel Thackery who is directing and a top-secret script editor who has asked not to be revealed, but has been brilliant to work with. And, as of today, we’ve cast all but one of the roles and it’s the best cast I’ve ever worked with. We’ve settled on Louise Hamer as Halo and she’s perfect. See Casting Call Pro if you don’t believe me. In fact, if you don’t fall in love with Halo all over again after this then frankly, you’re dead inside…
B: Halo Jones is part of the Mid-Winter Lassfest. What else have you got on that may be of interest to the blog’s readers?
G: A whole heap of goodies. An event with genre publisher Hirst Books. They will be bringing along a host of his writers for a day on Saturday, 7th January. Three episodes of Coronation Street from 1968 penned by the legendary Jack Rosenthal and performed on the ground floor of the pub, cast by the great June West of the Road to Coronation Street fame. A revival of Jack’s Play for Today from 1974 ‘Hot Fat’, never since repeated and the tapes have been LONG wiped by the BBC. Oh… and an adaptation of Russell T. Davies’ Midnight, originally from the 2008 run of Doctor Who in our claustrophobic Salmon Room upstairs.
B: How did you get permission to put on a performance of Halo Jones and also Russell T Davies’ Midnight?
G: Well, we asked Rebellion [publishers of 2000 AD] very nicely and they very kindly allowed us to perform Halo. Similarly with Russell, who is a fan of [Gareth's rightly celebrated Doctor Who fanzine] Vworp Vworp and knows the Lass from his BBC Manchester days (apparently he lost his watch there in the nineties. We’ve still not found it!), although what we’re adapting is the script and characters created by Russell. Nowhere are the Doctor or Donna to be seen, but a brand new mysterious stranger known only as John Smith. You may recognise him….
B: Word is that you had to chat to Tharg himself, the mighty Mr. Moore and that you’ve been seen in the company of television giant, Russell T Davies. It must be a big thrill to be rubbing shoulders with (or making phone calls to) these guys. Are you in geek heaven?
G: Oh absolutely. In fact, it’s like being controller of your own TV channel! Alan has been very kind to us with Vworp Vworp and he’s such a pleasure to work with. I was adamant we wouldn’t do Halo unless Alan was cool with it, even though it’s not his IP, it’s important to let people know what you’re about and what we’re here for. Ditto with Russell who we’ve got to know again through Vworp Vworp, so we want it to be right. The Lass doesn’t profit by a penny from Halo or Midnight. We do it, because we want to and we love the material. And it’s often completely forgotten, but these guys are fans of things too. We’re all fans.
B: Please tell us about the theatre space you’ve got at the Lass.
G: Well, we have a wee space above the pub called the Salmon Room (named after our good pal, the artist Adrian Salmon) which we’ve developed as we’ve gone along into a great studio space that seats around 35 people. Our budget is non-existent, but we work our capital hard and with support from sponsors, we do manage miracles. Of course, a first for us this January is to use the ground floor of the pub to stage things, so Halo and Corrie will be down there and that will be amazing.
B: Tell us about the mighty publishing adventure that has been Vworp Vworp. It’s a fanzine that, I think, is fair to say, has exceeded expectations?
G: Again, we’ve been blown away by the supper for our little fanzine, but the love and nostalgia seems to have been there, which is lovely. I mean, what could be better than publishing a lost Abslom Daak tale from Steve Moore? And working with people whose work I so admire like Steve Dillon, Steve Moore, Dez Skinn, Mick McMahon, Alan McKenzie, Ade Salmon and Martin Geraghty is so not work. It’s an honour.
B: What’s the word on Vworp Vworp 3? What’s in it and when’s it out?
G: Well we’re beavering away — myself and co-editor Colin Brockhurst — and we’re aiming for Summer 2012. And you can look forward to a frankly amazing chat with Alan Moore talking about his early Doctor Who and Empire Strikes Back strips, his thoughts on contemporary Doctor Who and something so top secret, you’ll weep when you read it. Elsewhere, we’ve more Abslom Daak as well as a sequel to the seminal Iron Legion strip penned by Lance Parkin with pencils and inks by Dan McDaid and colours by Charlie Kirchoff. And, of course, another wizard free gift that will top issue #1′s transfers and #2′s Weetabix cards.
B: What’s next for you, the Lass and for your adventures in pub theatre?
G: Well, we’ve ambitions for a much bigger space up there to make the Lass a proper, London-style theatrepub. We’ll see…
B: Finally, there’s quite a lot going on year round at the Lass. What regular events might the blog’s readers want to pop along to?
G: We open our doors to Doctor Who fans on the last Saturday of every month in the Snug for drinks and the occasional screenings. We also hold retro gaming nights on the second Friday and last Tuesday of the month, as well as open mics, book clubs, karaoke, meat-free Mondays and the like. Come see us on Facebook, or bob over to www.thelass.co.uk!
Thanks to Gareth and Bat for taking the time to conduct this interview. Bat, a short, balding man with (according to his dad) ‘shifty eyes’ was last seen at Manchester Piccadilly Station clutching a stained copy of Fantastic Four #6. If anyone has any information about his whereabouts, please contact us here at the blog. His mum is very worried about him. (To be honest, we’re not that bothered, we know he’ll come home when he gets hungry enough.)The Halo Jones stage production runs from the 2nd to 7th January, a fine way to start the New Year – if you’re in town please do go along and give them some support.