The following is an interview with the stars and producers onThe
Ballad of Halo Jones, the stage adaption of the Alan Moore graphic
novel. The interview took place after the original Manchester run of the
play and it is being revived this month in Leeds in the Library Scream
Pub, Sunday 11 November, Monday 12 November and Saturday 17 November,
as part of Thought Bubble, the week-long comic arts festival
Any discerning comic book fan will know of the tale of the 50th Century
Girl Next Door, The Ballad of Halo Jones. From the pens of Alan Moore and
Ian Gibson, the 2000AD strip was ground-breaking in its portrayal of a
strong, ordinary woman in the very male-centric world of sci fi comics.
Based in far future Manhattan, it followed Halo and her friends in
their adventures on the Hoop, a dumping ground for the unemployed. She
eventually fled her humdrum life in the schlup-pit for adventures in
space on a luxury cruise liner, and then the army.
As with all of Moore’s works, it covered many social issues that
still resonate today. The series made it to three books before the
creators fell out with the publishers, and that’s all we got... or did
Well, yes, all we got in terms of comics. But for any fans new and old,
Manchester entertainment pub the Lass O’Gowrie has recently achieved the
impossible and put The Ballad of Halo James on stage. A collaboration
between the the pub’s in-house production company and Manchester-based
theatre company Scytheplays, it ran through January at the Lass
O’Gowrie, and I caught up with the production team and cast after the
Dan Thackeray Co – Director.
Ian Winterton – Co-writer, Script Editor, Associate Producer, Casting
Ross Kelly – Co Writer and Co Director
Dan and Ross met at university studying Film Studies, and have worked
on several projects together, and Ian has been writing professionally for
a number of years.
Why did you choose Halo Jones for an adaption?
IW: We didn’t! It was Gareth (Kavanagh), our producer, who runs the
We’d planned to do Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy, but that fell
through due to copyright issues, and then the next choice was Halo
And were you familiar with the piece before hand?
IW: Yeah, I know the book really well. I’ve had it on my wish list.
When it didn’t look as though we could do Hitchhikers, Halo Jones was
one of the one’s I’d wrote down, so I was glad we got the go ahead.
RK: Yep, I’m a big fan.
DT: I only knew of it at first, but I know a lot of Alan Moore’s work
and really admire him so I was excited about doing it. I like the
feminist, ground-breaking quality to it, soI was really interested in
What themes in it do you think are relevant today?
IW: Well, it's a big hoop full of unemployed people tethered off the
edge of Manhattan, so it was very relevant in the 80's when it was written,
and relevant again now. We looked at it and did consider setting it in
Europe, having it tethered off the Northampton peninsula!
RK: The only reason we didn’t was that it’s written for an American
accent, so it would have meant changing quite a lot of the dialogue, and
we didn’t have that much time.
When did the clock start ticking?
RK: We were given the ‘go’ in November, and started writing then.
IW: We didn’t have a script until it was cast, at the beginning of
DT: We went through 9 drafts of the script, which was pretty
ridiculous! We were on to draft 3 by the time we cast it. Between casting
it and the two weeks before beginning to rehearse, the script just got
rewritten and rewritten.
What changes were you making?
RK: Well, the first draft was just copying from the comic, with very
little changes. Then we found out what worked and what didn’t. What’s
written in the comic book might not work when spoken. There were also
cliffhangers at the end of each comic, like ‘tune in next week’, which
wouldn’t have really worked on stage.
IW: The dialogue also wasn’t designed to be spoken. No one was saying
to Alan (Moore), ‘that’ll be difficult to say’. I kept thinking of
Harrison Ford during Star Wars when he said, ‘You can type this shit,
but you can’t say it!’ Things like, ‘Let’s propel protoplasm’.
That’s quite hard to say! The auditions were useful to try it out on
DT: I think the first person we saw for any role was Paida (Noel), who
plays Ludy, and she read the scene with Ian reading in the other parts.
Then we asked her if she had any questions and she said, ‘Yes. Erm...
What’s happening?’ She’d done it with conviction and belief you’d
expect in an audition and it sounded really great, but she’d not really
understood a word of it! So we explained what was happening, and she was
like ‘Oh...’, and then it suddenly became alive.
When you put on fringe theatre, there’s usually some problems,
like double booking the venue or last minute drop outs. Did you suffer
anything like this?
RK: Well, not dropping out, but we have had a lot of throat infections.
Three of the cast, including the lead actress. They all seemed to lose
their voice over the weekend.
IW: It’s the Hoop!
RK: They all seem to have recovered really well, thank god!
DT: We also had a three-person costume team that went down very quickly
to a one-person costume team. One of them got a paid job, and the other
one was hit in the back of the head by a bus! Lizzie, she got off a bus
and it drove into her. She’s alright but she had bad concussion so that
was the end of her contribution. Hannah Telfer, who then had to handle the
costume requirements all by herself, has done an incredible job. Halo’s
dress for the party scene at the end is beautiful.
So tell us about Scytheplays?
DT: For a long time I had the idea of creating a company that was all
about taking literary science
fiction, probably short stories, and putting on double bills of short
plays. A standard theatre audience doesn’t know about science fiction,
and sci fi readers don’t necessarily know that much about theatre.
Putting the two together is probably uncharted territory, but I think
they’ll go well together, and that’s what I’ve been wanting to do
for a long time – and suddenly I’ve been made redundant so I have the
time to do it! Last year my friend Kevin Cuffe, who’s a great writer,
invited me to work with him on his play called The Say Can Blues, which was
a big success at the Lass O’Gowrie and he was kind enough to let me use
my company name for that show, so that gave us a prestigious first
production which then led to Gareth asking me to do this. So Halo Jones
has ended up being the first of our sci-fi adaptations under the name Scytheplays. Its been amazing and it was just the sort of thing I wanted
Louise Hamer - Halo Jones
I hadn’t actually heard of it before, but when I read it I fell in
love with it. Halo Jones is just a normal, ordinary girl who wants to get
out of the hoop and get out of her situation. She’s nothing special, she
hasn’t got any powers, she’s just someone who’s motivated by
something and acts upon it. She says in the book that anyone could’ve
done it, and that’s what I like about her. She’s just the girl next
door, but she did it.
It’s been such fun to work on. It’s such a good story and it was
great to play the lead. We’ve had a lot of fun and I’ve made a lot of
Benjamin Patterson - Toby
I’ve just been told that one of the real fan boys who came to see it
said ‘The thing that was going to make or break it for me was if Toby
was going to be good’, and then he said he loved it, which is just superb. You’ve got someone there
who’s obviously a real fan of the comic, and has got a lot of history
with it, and if you can tick their boxes that’s brilliant.
It’s the first time I’ve acted full mask, and I’m actually kind
of scared of masks! Usually when you’re getting into character, who’ll
wear your shoes or whatever, get in the zone, but I couldn’t look in the
It was a fascinating little part to play though, as we had Toby as part
dog and part human, so it was a real learning curve working out who he was
going to be. It was a privilege to play as it was the only lead male part.
Zoe Iqbal - Swifty Frisco
Swifty’s an entertainment presenter that tells the Hoopsider’s
celebrity gossip and fashion tips, and most importantly, passes on the
messages from the government. It was a really good comic part that I had a
lot of fun with.
Through being in Halo Jones, I’ve had my eyes opened to a whole world
of comics. They weren’t what I expected, I think Halo is really
political and it’s got lots of undercurrents and twists to the story. I
also do stand up, and I think comics are a really rich source for anyone
writing comedy, as the characters are just brilliant.
Michelle Ashton - Brinna
I didn’t know about the comic before the play, and I think it can be
difficult to get your head around the whole 50th Century thing at first,
but the whole cast got really involved, and we were all immersed in it by
the end. The language was pretty alien, but it's not that difficult,
because of the context of it. You can figure it out. Slappy is a word that's thrown in there a lot but you can work out what it means, and it
became part of our own natural vernacular! We were all saying it.
Brinna is the mother figure to all the other girls on the Hoop. They
actually wrote in the bit about the rejuvenation, because she’s dead old
in the comic, which would explain why I was so young playing quite an old
lady. I think it really worked.
Next I’m in a play that I’ve actually written myself. It’s called
Fine, it’s about a girl and her counsellor. It's pretty dark, a bit of a
departure from comic books!
Marlon Solomon - Mix Ninegold
I studied drama about 10 years ago, but I’ve been working in music
for most of that time, I’ve just got back into acting recently. I’m
new to the comic but I’ve read it now. The play is the first two books.
The third book is where she joins the army, and you can’t really show
that at the Lass O’ Gowrie.
Mix Ninegold, who’s got the best name of any character I’ve ever
played, is a cyberneticist who works on board the Clara Pandy Space Liner,
and he is responsible for all the machinery. He is fascinated by Halo
Jones’ robot dog, Toby. He doesn’t have a huge role in the play, but
he is pivotal to the plot when he replaces Toby’s audio memory and gives Halo the old one, as she’s missing her
friends. It reveals that the dog is the murderer!
Danny Wallace - The Glyph
The Glyph s a really interesting character, but all the characters in
the play think he’s really boring, he just kind of fades into the
background. So much that no one notices him, he’s a bit invisible. I
think of him a bit like a ghost. He’s in scenes, but no one even sees
he’s there, unless he jumps in front of them. The Glyph is neither boy
nor girl, he’s had so many sex changes that he’s lost his personality,
and no one knows he’s there most of the time. That lets him solve some
problems and help people though. It’s a lovely little part to play.
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Gerard Thompson - Several Ensemble Parts
I go to Mark Hudson’s Manchester School of Acting and I’ve been
there for 10 years. He helped me get an agent, and then got me in front of
casting director David Shaw, and he cast me as Lillian’s son Rodney in Shameless. That was hilarious. Sally Carman (Kelly Maguire) gave me a
really lovely compliment. She said, ‘You’re sat on a goldmine, and you
don’t even know it’. Hopefully they’ll bring him back, Lillian keeps
getting his picture out of her purse...
This is my first theatre in about 4 years. I know Ian (Winterton)
through a mutual friend. He asked me to be in a play last year called Tag
Team, but I bottled it because of a gay kiss in the script. Then I went to
see it, and he only kissed his hand! I was like ‘What’! So it’s good
to finally work with him.
Alastair Gillies - Several Ensemble Parts
I’ve been a huge fan of comics since I was old enough to read them. I
worked in a newsagents, and I’d get first pick of 2000AD when it came
out. Halo Jones was much more tongue in cheek sci fi. It was great. Comics
seemed to get a bit more serious later on.
It’s mainly strong female parts in Halo Jones, so the lads were
playing smaller parts, doubling, trebling, quadrupling up, on and off like
a jack in a box! It was a great deal of fun, it meant you could play
around a lot more, doing silly voices and what have you. As an actor, you
always want to do the lead roles and all that, but it’s very liberating
to have the pressure off. Just to go on and help tell the story, and make
the audience laugh!
For more information check out the Scytheplays blog: