Slung Low are a theatre company who never do what is expected of them so at the moment they are acting as ward lead organisation during the COVID-19 Crisis for the people of Holbeck in Leeds where they are based.
But before lockdown restricted their output they made a short film, The Good Book, featuring a cast of 100 community actors drawn from the Leeds People’s Theatre that continues the story of a future British dystopia created by their long-time collaborator James Phillips.
This is the latest instalment of a long running story that began life as The White Whale in Leeds Dock seven years ago morphing into Camelot before the water based spectacular Flood that became the centrepiece of Hull’s City of Culture in 2017.
This time Philips has dreamt up a future Leeds where Queen Bear is now head of a police state with her troops on the streets of Holbeck supressing the fundamentalist followers of usurper Galahad who wants to introduce a new moral order.
Enter Holbeck local Avalon – Bradford’s Riana Duce, one of three professional actors in the cast - who sits in the middle of the warring factions. She has been charged with saving a precious book from the Galahad zealots that contains a work by a British poet considering the nature of revolution, and its mirror image tyranny.
Along the way she meets her mate Frank in The Holbeck Social Club – coincidently Slung Low’s new HQ – ending up in the middle of a mass brawl whipped up by another pro Kate Eldred’s sinister fanatic Vivian between supporters of the Bear Queen and Galahad’s adherents. Community actor John Poulter brings real dignity to fearless Frank and might do well to consider a professional career.
Avalon is helped in her quest by the mysterious Geraint, the expressive Angus Imrie does a lot with very little, and his interplay with Duce’s conflicted young woman rings awkwardly true.
The Community Cast come into their own as director Brett Chapman stages a mass riot on the steps of Leeds Town Hall as Galahad’s raging book burners try for the ultimate expression of intellectual fascism.
At times it isn’t always clear which faction is which, and half an hour isn’t nearly enough time to establish backstories. That’s a particular problem with Geraint who seems to be a character looking for both a book and a coherent story line.
This could have just been a love letter to Leeds and Holbeck, but strong production values and a hugely enthusiastic cast turn into a pertinent meditation on what happens when fanatics divide people who have much more in common than they realise.
Reviewer: Paul Clarke
Reviewed: 30th April 2020
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★