PIONEERING Leeds theatre company Slung Low will premiere their new short film The Good Book from 12 noon tomorrow, streaming online for free.
Set in a future Leeds, James Phillips’s story depicts a society divided between loyalists of the powerful Queen Bear and radical followers of Galahad.
Avalon, played by Riana Duce, is a young woman desperate not to take sides, but as civil war begins, she must undertake a dangerous mission to rescue a precious relic from destruction.
Riana, from Bradford, is joined in the cast of invited actors by Angus Imrie, from Fleabag, Emma and The Archers, Katie Eldred and more than 100 members of the Holbeck community.
Directed by Sheffield filmmaker Brett Chapman, filming took place in late-January at Slung Low’s base, The Holbeck Social Club and at Holbeck Cemetery, Leeds Central Library and Leeds Town Hall.
The Good Book forms the first production for the newly formed Leeds People’s Theatre, created by producers Slung Low with support of Leeds 2023, the city’s upcoming international cultural festival, Leeds City Council and the Arts Council.
The film continues writer James Phillips’s future dystopia, a series that began with The White Whale at Leeds Dock in 2013, followed by Camelot, a Slung Low and Sheffield Theatres outdoor co-production in 2015.
Next came Flood, the epic centrepiece of Hull, UK City of Culture 2017’s performance programme that also featured on the BBC.
Project number four represents a departure for Slung Low: the film The Good Book, at once self-contained but also drawing on the world of Camelot.
“I think the plan was to launch it in Leeds and do a little festival run, but after the Coronavirus lockdown it seemed better and more useful to put it out there now online,” says James.
“We were lucky that we got the filming done in the last two and a half weeks of January, and the penultimate day was ‘Brexit Day’. Not that long ago, but that now seems a world of somewhat different concerns.”
The Good Book finds Phillips working once more with Slung Low artistic director and executive producer Alan Lane. “The work Alan and I do together is different to the other work Slung Low does,” says James.
“For pieces like Flood, a full-blown epic for Hull’s City of Culture year, it’s a ‘future present’ that we create that allows us to play with big political ideas and look at things in a slightly different way.
“Camelot was done with a massive cast of 127 on Sheffield’s streets in 2015, and again it was a prescient piece where I became obsessed with the thought of a dangerous nostalgia, that need to look back to look forward, which has caused so many problems.
“That play was about a young girl who saw visions of the future of Arthurian Britain, and then ten years later, people come along who have taken those visions seriously but are utterly more dangerous. This re-birth of ‘purity’ becomes so destructive that a civil war starts.”
James continues: “This was just before Trump’s presidency, Brexit and the Corbyn revolution, so something was in the air. Like ISIS being a nostalgic organisation looking back to something that never existed…and I wondered about Christian fundamentalism too.”
The Good Book is set ten years into that new world, now in Holbeck, as a counter-revolution starts in Leeds, whereas Camelot was set and made in Sheffield.
The switch of location was a “very logical step”, says James: “When I wanted to make this film, it was good to tie it in with the idea that Leeds was the last place that Sheffield would want a counter-revolution to start, and whereas Camelot was about heroes, this story is about a small revolution.”
In The Good Book, an old man caught between two opposing factions gives a young girl a piece of paper with a reference number for a book at Leeds Library. “She has to decide whether to risk herself to save the book, and she wonders what meaning the book might have,” says James.
Is “The Good Book” the Bible? “No. It’s something more than anything to do with what’s going on in the world now,” says James.
A short film may suggest a more intimate work than Camelot, but “it is and it isn’t more intimate”, the writer says. “I made the decision to push the envelope, so it’s not a typical short film. It has a big cast of 100, so technically it’s too long for a ‘short film’.
“At the end, there’s a big riot involving 90 people, and we had lots of recruits wanting to do that scene!”
How does James expect viewers to react to The Good Book? “Hopefully they will be surprised. It’s different. I’ve done screen things before, like the Flood project having a short film and a piece for the BBC, but The Good Book was always, deliberately, conceived to be a short film,” he says.
“I think we’re on to a good thing with this film, so it would be great to do more of them.”
Slung Low’s The Good Book will be available to stream online for free from 12 noon tomorrow (May 1) at www.slunglow.org/TGB
Did you know?
LEEDS People’s Theatre has been created by Slung Low as a dedicated division for large-scale professional arts projects with communities in Leeds at the heart of them.
This involves the community working in tandem with professional artists and creative teams, offering an opportunity to learn, gain more experience or simply be part of a community.
The Good Book will be the first of several projects Slung Low are planning for Leeds People’s Theatre. Watch this space.