At the moment the always unpredictable theatre company Slung Low are acting as the COVID-19 hub for Holbeck in Leeds where they are based.
As well as dropping off food for socially isolated residents they have found time to release a movie, The Good Book, directed by Sheffield film maker Brett Chapman. It tells the story of a young woman Avalon caught in the middle of an ugly civil war between the loyal subjects of Queen Bear and the more puritan agitators of the usurper Galahad in a near future dystopian Britain.
The half hour film is a continuation of a story screenwriter James Phillips first began with the company’s Artistic Director Alan Lane when they staged The White Whale in Leeds Dock way back in 2013 and moved onto Camelot a year later. The Good Book picks up from Flood, a year-long project that was the centrepiece of Hull’s UK City Culture programme in 2017.
“That was about a revolution, and then a counter revolution in this country, where a young woman started the play and said she was seeing visions,” says James. “She was inspired the spirit of King Arthur and in order to go forward we needed to go backwards.”
In this new work the hero of Flood is now ruling the nation who are in lockdown as armed soldiers patrol the streets of Holbeck culminating in an epic pub brawl between the two warring factions.
“Queen Bear leads this extraordinary revolution, and becomes the leader of the country, then as the story progresses over 10 years or more, there’s a kind of counter revolution. It’s not a revolution against her, but one that said there’s a new morality and the nostalgia that she comes up with is not pure enough.
“Like most revolutions the story tends to be that it starts off with people who demands may be radical, but relatively sensible, and then more and more the extreme moves in. So the French Revolution starts with trying to get a constitutional monarchy, and ends up with everyone basically murdering each other.”
Keen fans of Slung Low’s work will spot that the pub is actually their new headquarters, the Holbeck Social Club, and Avalon played by Riana Duce meets a mysterious stranger in the local cemetery as she prepares for a dangerous journey to save a book in Leeds Library.
“It’s set in Holbeck and the people are living there in a double police state,” notes Phillips. “There are the rulers who are spying on them, and then there are the people who are more extreme and puritanical trying to institute their own kind of order.
“The story is about one young woman Avalon who is caught between the two extremes, how she tries to navigate that impossible position, and she tries to some sort of positive. It’s a microcosm of what it is like to live in that situation and what you should try and save.”
In The Good Book a small group of professional performers are joined onscreen by 100 members of the Leeds People’s Theatre formed by Slung Low to showcase acting talent from across the city.
Chapman cleverly deploys most of them in a visceral riot scene on the steps of Leeds Town as soldiers hold back a mob of angry book burners as Avalon attempts to complete her mission. Philips think their energy brings a unique flavour to the movie.
“It gives you this incredible reality to the work and it is even more interesting to do it with screen work. There is a great tradition of in inverted commas ‘non-actors’ acting in screen things. There is a reality and rootedness you can get having the chance to work with the people who are really from the place where you are making your story.
“There is a wonderful togetherness, and it allows me as a creative person to make shows on a large scale. It allows those shows to be owned by an entire community, particularly when we are doing plays about real political ideas.”
To watch The Good Book for free go to https://vimeo.com/413515137/68df911cbe