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The Ballad of Halo Jones (Lassfest - Manchester)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Venue: Lass O'Gowrie
Where: Manchester

Before Buffy the Vampire Slayer writer Alan Moore and artist Ian Gibson created the everyday heroine Halo Jones. Halo is motivated to escape a futuristic ghetto where massive unemployment limits any chance of progress after a talented friend, through whom she has been living vicariously, gives up and joins a cult and another is murdered. She goes out; just out- and in the process becomes a legend.

Scytheplays’s new adaptation avoids the over-awed approach to the source material that sometimes spoils page to stage translations. Conscious that action sequences rarely work on stage scriptwriter Ross Kelly (with additional material from Ian Winterton) instead emphasises the universal elements of the work – the corrosive effect of unemployment on ambition, congested slum dwellings, the importance of both friendship and of independence and humour - lots of humour. The adaptation gives deeper background to Halo and adds a realistic level of familial tension to the relationship between the friends. The revised showdown with the murderer works really well in this format.

Alan Moore’s sly wit was remarkable in the comic but director Daniel Thackeray knows more of a boost is needed if it is to achieve its potential on-stage. He manages to draw humour from his talented cast. Zoe Iqbal achieves the rare balance of being both vivacious and vacuous in her role of Swifty Frisko; if you need to deliver exposition (and this show certainly does) then Iqbal’s crowd-pleasing turn is the way to pull it off.  Sean Mason’s interpretation of The Glyph, while never losing the vital otherworldly aspect, is surprisingly funny and vulnerable.

The casting is spot-on; Ellie Beelsey’s Ludy movingly conveys the sense of someone whose apprehension has eaten away her hope. Morag Peacock shows great understanding of the development of Halo. In the opening scenes she remains firmly in the background, submissively hunched with hands thrust in pockets. Peacock’s growing awareness of the possibility of a richer life subtly reveals Halo’s inner strength and contrasts well against the superficial bluster of Sinead Parker’s agoraphobic Rodice.

Thackeray delivers a high-quality production. Excellent use of made of unearthly sound effects and filmed inserts. It is a production that certainly offers potential for development on a larger stage where the quality of the acting and effects could be better appreciated.

For all the success of the show it remains uneven and congested. It is hard to concentrate on the first half that is crammed with incident, constant scene changes and phrases and jargon rushing by in a blur. You have to sympathise with anyone not already familiar with the material. We are promised that ‘ Halo Jones will return’ and, if so, one hopes that the producers will be able to offer a less frenetic pace that might be easier for the non-fan to appreciate.

- Dave Cunningham. 

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