Review: The Ballad of Halo Jones / Adapted by: Ross Kelly, Ian Winterton / Starring: Louise Hamer, Claire Dean, Benjamin Patterson, Zoe Iqbal, Paida Noel, Michelle Ashton, Laura Cope, Danny Wallace, Marlon Solomon, Will Hutchby, Phil Dennison, Gerard Thompson, Gemma Flannery / Venue: The Lass O' Gowie
Alan Moore’s unfinished science-fiction classic, The Ballad of Halo Jones, is perhaps not the obvious choice for a small stage production in a cramped Manchester pub, but Scytheplays production of the space opera has exceeded all expectations.
The Ballad of Halo Jones is an epic tale, charting the life of its titular heroine as she navigates a harsh world of slums, riots, unemployment and collapsing empires. The tale itself is nearly thirty years old, but it is as relevant as it ever was. The production pulls no punches; no time is wasted explaining the futuristic setting or the strange slang the character’s use throughout the story. This is a little disorientating at the start, but despite the futuristic gloss, hope and despair are universal and the lingo is easy to pick up.
The limited space and obvious shoe-string budget have been skilfully turned into an advantage by the production company, and though Manchester’s top geek pub The Lass O’Gowrie is hardly spacious, this adds intimacy to the show and makes a highly personal show all the more so. Rather than spending their budget on flashy effects or odd looking puppets, the more unusual aspects of the world are cunningly implied. Clever dialogue and lighting immerses the audience in Halo’s dystopian future.
The original graphic novel took advantage of the medium to give us visually striking and mesmerising characters. The production has chosen equally striking performers for each role, and the entire cast are incredible. Actress Louise Hamer is Halo Jones, and fans of the book should prepare to fall in love with the main character again. Benjamin Patterson tackles the difficult task of playing the menacing robot dog Toby with great skill, adding a menacing regional accent to the mix. Most interesting of all is Danny Wallace’s performance of The Glyph. This comic yet doomed creature is one of the more memorable characters from the book, and is handled with humour, sensitivity and care. The supporting cast are equally strong and highly flexible. It takes real skill to turn a tiny bar into an epic space opera, simply through the power of performance. Very powerful stuff, all told.
The production covers the first two parts of the three part series, and is about two hours long. The third part of the book covers a weird space war, and would be very difficult to do even with a huge budget, and has been wisely excised from the current production. The play has now ended its current run, but Scytheplays has promised that it will return. I do hope so, as I want to see it again.